New book on argillite carvers comes out in June

  • May. 12, 2008 3:00 p.m.

Fifteen argillite carvers are getting their turn in the spotlight in a beautiful new coffee table book. Breathing Stone: Contemporary Haida Argillite Sculpture profiles a different group of artists says author Carol Sheehan. “These are not the ones the press always writes about,” she says of the 15 carvers from on and off the islands that she features in the book. Artists like Cooper Wilson, Donnie Edenshaw, Gary Minaker Russ, Robert Vogstad, Darrell White and Jay Simeon have been working in the medium for a long time but have never had anything published about them before, Ms Sheehan said from her home in Calgary. The book features these artists in a different way as well, says Ms Sheehan. She visited each artist in his studio and carried out interviews at several different times to help paint intimate portraits of each one. “I didn’t want to separate the person of the artist from his artwork,” she said. She talks to each of them about their influences and training, but includes personal details about their families as well. More than 2000 photos were taken, many by Masset-based photographer Jack Littrell, for the book, but in the end only 100 were used. The photos offer a different view of the sculptural pieces than other books on argillite says Ms Sheehan. “They are not the same old studio museum shots,” she said. Instead the photos were shot outside on beaches, in the forest or amongst people’s art collections. She hopes the images will encourage readers to picture the pieces in their own home. But don’t expect to be able to buy any of those shown, she says. Even though the artists in Breathing Stone are not as well known as master carvers like Christian White or Giitsxaa, their carvings do not sit on the shelf for any amount of time. She first encountered some of these artists’ works at Masters Gallery in Calgary where she’d been asked to write a catalogue article for an argillite-only exhibition. She was astonished by the work and rekindled her acquaintance with Sarah Hillis of Sarah’s Haida Arts and Jewellery in Old Massett. Ms Sheehan approached Frontenac House, a Calgary-based publisher, with a book proposal and they liked the idea. They mainly publish poetry, but have been interested in getting into art books, she says. She also knew the publisher who was the designer of her first book on argillite called Pipes that Won’t Smoke, Coal that Won’t Burn That book came out in the 1981 and Ms Sheehan said she didn’t expect to return to the topic. But she said it was a joy to meet the artists and also connect many of them to each other through her work on the book. Three chapters of the book can be found on the Frontenac website and the book will be launched along with an exhibition at the Master’s Gallery in Calgary on June 20. Ms Sheehan says book signing events will be held in Skidegate and Old Massett later in June as well. The artists featured in the book are: Sean Brennan, Michael Brown, Donnie Edenshaw, Shaun Edgars Chris Russ, Gary Minaker Russ, Marcel RussLionel Samuels, Jay Simeon, Robert Vogstad, Darrell White, Gryn White, Martin Williams, Cooper Wilson and Freddie Wilson.

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