SpruceRoots Magazine - September/October 2000


Giitsxaa and detail from the T'aanuu pole

the carvers

Many of the carvers working on the project have carved alongside Giitsxaa,
and spent hours at his hand learning the art. This time around is no exception
Again Giitsxaa has taken two inexperienced carvers under his wing. Again he's
teaching and enjoying it. There is, however, one significant departure in that one
of his assistants happens to be a woman - Victoria Moody.

Vicky, an accomplished weaver, isn't the first woman to take up a blade. There have been
others before her, and there are others today. In fact, only a stone's throw away Nika Brown
was helping with Jim Hart's UBC pole. But for Vicky this is a big first, and she's a little
frightened, a lot excited, and very grateful to Giitsxaa for the opportunity to work with him.

"He's started a lot of people out," she says. "He deserves more credit. I think he sees things
in people before they see it themselves."

Carving has always been an obsession with Vicky. One, until recently, she quenched only
through the experience of lead carver Garner Moody, her husband. "Ever since I was little I
wanted to get involved, and being married to a carver satisfied me for a while. Then when this
happened, I was so scared," she says. Now that the jitters have mostly passed, she's just trying
to learn and enjoy. "There's not too many jobs you can find that you absolutely love."

Giitsxaa began carving more than 40 years ago. He sold his first piece in 1962 - a 9-foot red
cedar pole. The first large pole he worked on was at Thunderbird Park in Victoria between the
parliament buildings and the Empress Hotel. He remembers the hoards of curious visitors who
would stop and gawk at him and the other carvers while they worked. "There was a railing between
us and them," he says. "We'd ignore them and pretend we didn't speak English. We worked on
poles of this size, but the big difference now is that I'm calling the shots."

One of Giitsxaa's passions is tools. Early on in the project he hosted a workshop for the other
carvers on how to make them. And when the Loo Taas was carved in the eighties, he was hired
to sharpen tools for the carvers.

"I got the tools so sharp that nobody could use them. Then I had to show them how," he says. Sharp
tools help prevent injury, and of course, "It's a lot easier to do good work."

Giitsxaa studied at the Vancouver School of Art during the sixties, and the influence it had upon him has
surfaced in the design of his pole which incorporates traditional elements in an unconventional manner.
The pole will feature a killer whale at the base, a wolf with a raven, a shark, an eagle, and capped with a
large shark's fin.

"I talked to the chief and he told me what to put on it," he says. "From there I was allowed to do
what I wanted."

P.J. Ellis rounds out the T'aanuu team, and along with Vicky and Giitsxaa, will likely be challenged by
the log they have to work with. While the wood at bottom of the pole is soft and compliant, the upper
portion is hard, dry, knotty, and should prove difficult to carve.

"We'll stick it out," P.J. says.Giitsxaa, undaunted, is confident they can pull it off, and looks forward
to the moment his pole is standing with the other five. "When they all go up it's going to set a precedent
for the whole coast," he predicts. "They're all going to have to try real hard to do better." ::

SpruceRoots Magazine - September/October 2000