Novices, experienced learn from master

  • Oct. 22, 2007 5:00 a.m.

By Charlotte Tarver–Drums, sketching pads, books, prints and ovoid-eye drawings were strewn across the classroom tables in the Haida Heritage Centre last Saturday (October 20). The room was full with twenty-seven people taking the “From Curio to Fine Art” workshop given by Robert Davidson, one of Canada’s premier Haida artists. This was the fifth time Mr. Davidson has given his workshop here, and there was a wide-range of students from novices to accomplished, well-known Haida artists. It took place in Old Massett and Skidegate Oct 13 – 20. Mr. Davidson says his workshops are a learning curve for the students as well as himself. “Its exciting how it is evolving, we are creating a vocabulary for the art form,” he said. “I can see a definite progression (in Haida art) from the earliest collected pieces. The art was really developed pre-contact and refined by new tools…with new tools, it has accelerated more in the past 50 years than in the past 2000 years.” “The art of our ancestors has a world class reputation…the challenge of present day carvers is to rise to that bar…to use that standard as a launching pad,” says Mr. Davidson. During the 28-hours of instruction, people studied the works of Haida master artists of the late 1700s to 1800s, and learned the standard of the masters by copying the designs. Participants then used those principles to create their own style and to work on new designs. On the last day of the workshop, people were quiet and focused, intently painting on drums or paper, sketching new designs or finishing off drawings of the old masters’ designs. Mr. Davidson moved around from student to student, sat and watched them draw and gave encouragement. At times, he used a blackboard to demonstrate how to draw a basic form such as the traditional ovoid-eye. “Once the artist grasps the standard of the old masters, the challenge for each person who is practising from the old is to create his own style…, said Mr. Davidson, “…there are no limits to the possibilities.” Some participants, such as Ralph Stocker and daughter Erica, both of Masset had taken the workshop previously. “I took the workshop last year and only traced and copied and didn’t draw anything of my own, said Mr. Stocker, “now I’m painting a drum with a frog design.” Another, Marnie York of Masset, said “It’s intense, hard work and I have to stay focused.” Most participants were islanders but a couple of students were from off-island. Mr. Davidson used to offer his workshops in the Vancouver area but now offers it only on Haida Gwaii. He says he’ll be back next year to give another.