Bear Spirit

Height: 12 inches. Artist’s collection.
Carved from alder, with acrylic paint.

Shaman who’s spirit power is derived from the black bear. The bear’s skin is the robe on the shaman’s back with the bear headdress attached and not yet placed on the shaman’s head.

I was asked once to carve a shaman figure, but not to make it too nice because that might take away from its spirituality. At the time, I needed the work and accepted an advance. I don’t subscribe to the philosophy that art must be crude in order to evoke a spiritual essence, believing instead that the spirit of a piece is a result of the integrity the artist puts into it. After months of procrastination, I returned the down payment with an apology, stating that I couldn’t, in good conscience, accomplish what was asked of me. Freed from my obligation, I made this shaman figure for myself. The style of this particular piece was inspired by the work of the nineteenth century Haida artists Simeon Stilthda and Charles Gwaitilth, two brothers who’s work was stylistically very identifiable and an inspiration for me in much of my work. I have shown this shaman ready to perform using his black bear spirit power.

Besieged

Height: 36 inches. Hampton collection.
Carved from laminated Alaskan yellow cedar.

This piece was made specifically for my good friends Wally and Wendy Hampton. Wally was my photographer for many years.

I have carved several canoes. I enjoy being out the water with them, and there have been a few times when I probably should not have been. Although I have never been besieged by an octopus, I have been besieged by some pretty hairy wind and large waves. I suppose that is the inspiration for this sculpture. Also, the idea of creating something out of the ordinary was a fun challenge. In scale, this represents approximately an 18 ft. canoe of the Makah type. I had made a canoe of this size and type shortly before making this model.

Drummer

Height: 48 inches. Wilson collection.
Carved from laminated alder.

There are some very nice, small model shaman figures done in the nineteenth century by Haida carvers, particularly those attributed to an artist by the name of Simeon Stilthda. His work is probably the precedent for this piece. The human figures are quite naturalistic but slightly foreshortened, which gives them a somewhat whimsical character. He also didn’t “busy-up” his sculptures with detailed musculature. I gave my “Drummer” a little more animation and didn’t try to emulate Stilthda's particular facial style, which is practically his signature. I love doing this type of thing. I took it even a little farther with “Song Leader”, another sculpture depicting a singer.

Song Leader

Height: 48 inches. Artist’s collection.
Carved from Alaskan yellow cedar

Inspiration for this piece comes from watching a Nuchanutl singer and song leader of great reputation. Witnessing his singing and conducting is almost the nearest to a spiritual experience I have had.

I took license with the hair and attire, but I tried to evoke the essence of the man. Although I don’t have the physique of this finished work, I did use myself as a model, assuming the posture and having myself photographed from four compass points. I don’t like getting into too much detail with musculature, although I did take it and the animation farther than Simeon Stilthda or “The Drummer”. I used some artistic license in that, traditionally, it would be unlikely that a feather wand would be used in conjunction with a rattle, which can be seen in some of the detail photos.

Daybreak

36 inches × 60 inches. Artist’s collection.
Carved from western red cedar, with acrylic paint.

My favorite themes of Stellars Jay, Red Tail Hawk, and personified Sun. This type of seat or couch is generally referred to as a “settee.” Traditionally, high-ranking Northwest Coast natives positioned themselves on these in front of the invited assemblage at potlatches, usually accompanied by their heir. Typically embellished with the house crests, these settees were often quite elaborate, although I must admit that I’ve not seen one this crazy. I chose for this settee my favorite personal theme of red-tailed hawk, Steller’s jay, and sun. Even though this is a functional piece, I regard it as a sculpture, because of its dimensionality and animation.

Burden Lady

48 inches x 36 inches. Artist's collection. Carved from yellow cedar, acrylic paint, natural stones sticks and shells

Nineteenth and early twentieth century photos depict Native women, mostly elderly, carrying burdens of firewood using a tumpline.

I’ve always wanted to do a sculpture like that and mentioned once to an acquaintance. It was proposed if I made one 16 feet tall as a speculation piece, he would provide the material free of charge. I would have to design the sculpture so that it comprised of pieces that could be easily assembled and disassembled and installed again with no obvious seams.

Snowy Egret

60 inches x 30 inches. Artist's collection.
Carved from Alaska yellow cedar with shredded
cedar bark and acrylic paint.

A few years ago driving through the Sacramento Valley, there had been a flood and it seemed like there were snowy egrets everywhere. Not indigenous to the Northwest, I had never seen one before. They have a fairly wide range with large flocks wintering in northern California. Their wingspan only reaches to about forty-five inches, but they are truly magnificent with their white plumage and graceful demeanor. They were hunted to near extinction for their feathers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I generally stick with animals, birds, and fish that are indigenous to the Northwest for subjects, but I couldn’t resist for this panel.

Portfolio: sculptures
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Realistic, free standing sculptures of some size are not common in Northwest Coast Native culture, other than small figure used by shaman in their curing ceremonies, however a few were made for sale to non-Native clients.

Bear Spirit

Height: 12 inches. Artist’s collection.
Carved from alder, with acrylic paint.

Besieged

Height: 36 inches. Hampton collection.
Carved from laminated Alaskan yellow cedar.

Drummer

Height: 48 inches. Wilson collection.
Carved from laminated alder.