SpruceRoots Magazine - July, 1999

For the past 20 years, artist Jeff Greene has been re-igniting his interest in the Haida art form. After a two-year absence from his home village of Skidegate, Nunstints is returning to unveil his first art exhibition.

Born at Skidegate in 1959, Nunstints (Jeff Greene) of the Taas Alaanaas clan (Sand People from the Eagle Clan) is one of a few artists keeping the traditional Haida form alive today. His pencil drawings, limited edition prints, paintings on Japanese Glass Balls and deerskin drums, all reflect Jeff's dedication to the Haida form.

Having spent the past 30 years studying the work of Masters Chief Tom Price and Charles Edenshaw, and contemporary Masters Robert Davidson and Bill Reid, Jeff firmly believes in the cultural and aesthetic values captured in the styles and shapes of the distinct Haida art form. "The shapes and designs of Haida art have been done a certain way for tens of thousands of years," says Greene. "I don't have the right to change it in my short lifetime. I want my art to be true to the old form." Hunched over his drawing table ten to twelve hours a day in his new home on Vancouver Island, overlooking Cowichan Bay, Greene has been waiting more than ten years to pick up his pencils and paint again.

"I put down my tools because it's the nature of Haida art; if you don't know the designs, it doesn't matter how good you are, the designs are not going to look very good." In his studies Jeff has seen the magic and mythic in the designs of the past. "They were the masters of the traditional Haida form just the way they put their feelings into their works using traditional design elements," says Green. Jeff studies their surviving pieces as he works to capture the depth of Haida art and culture through clean, crisp lines, perfectly curved ovoids and u-forms.

"Keeping the traditional form alive is important. We have to leave future generations with a record of the roots of their art," said Greene. There are no purples and yellows flowing wistfully across a canvas, blending hues and mixing light with dark. Jeff paints with black and red. His paintings are elegant through simplicity of line and form.

Building on the history and his knowledge of the art form, Jeff has produced a series of paintings, based on archival photographs stored at the Royal British Columbia Museum, and the University of British Columbia's Museum of Anthropology. The new work includes images of Tom Price in a canoe emerging from the thick mist of Haida Gwaii, Copper Woman, a pencil sketch of the decaying Beaver Pole in Skidegate, and four painted deerskin drums featuring familial crests.

These works, combined with a collection of earlier pieces make up "Haida Totem Images," Jeff's first professional show and exhibit. The show is to be held at the Haida Gwaii Museum at Qay'llnagaay from July 16th to August 15th, 1999. Studying archival photographs, drawings, and written records both reaffirms Jeff's commitment to the traditional Haida form, and expands his knowledge and understanding of the styles and forms used to keep legends, stories, and familial connections alive.

SpruceRoots Magazine - July, 1999