SpruceRoots Magazine - September/October 2000


Jim Hart

the carvers

Jim Hart's Skedans pole isn't nearly as close to completion as those of
the other carvers. Jagged lines, hewn out of the wood with an adze, only
vaguely suggest the emerging design.

The major reason for the lack of progress is only a few feet away -
a mammoth pole Jim is carving for the University of British Columbia's
Museum of Anthropology. UBC commissioned Jim to carve the pole,
dedicated to the memory of Bill Reid, to stand outside the Vancouver
museum. The pole will be raised on the very spot where one of the late
master carver's stood. Reid's pole is moving indoors for protection from
the elements and decay.

Jim's carving tent is all business. The pole is scheduled to be raised in two
weeks and it's not nearly ready yet. There's a sense of urgency among the five
carvers working on the pole, but no panic. Jim is calm and efficient, he carefully
guides his assistants while sharpening tools, then hunkers down on whatever
figure is occupying his attention at the moment.

Some figures are already carved with fine, finished lines. Some even painted.
Others are rough and crying for attention. The carvers are working on dozens
of different tasks at once, but with focus and determination rather than confusion.

Two assistant carvers, Oliver Bell and Daryl Collerman, are sweating over a plug
almost the size of briefcase, trying to precisely squeeze it into a hole where rotted
wood was removed. Nearly every pole on the beach has required at least one plug.
Over and over they maneuver it into place, mark it, remove it, and begin shaving
the edges for a better fit. They've evidently given themselves an impossible deadline
because Jim asks for an update on their progress in sinister fashion.

"What time is it? It must be about 12:30 by now" he asks, and of course he's quite
right. Oliver and Daryl grimace but try to ignore the question. An hour later, Jim asks
again. "It's got to be 12:30 now" he says. This gets a few smiles before Oliver replies:
"No, I think it's about a quarterafter" Jim then offers a little advice,"You can't just
rough it out and jam it in," he says smiling, appreciative and a little amused by their
diligence. "Otherwise how would you sleep at night."

At 2:30 Jim razzes them again. They go through the now familiar routine once more,
but the plug still isn't ready. It's clear from the effort Oliver and Daryl are making that
they really won't be sleeping at night unless the plug is entirely seamless when they've
finished with it.

The pole itself is carved from a 700-year-old ('we counted the rings') red cedar tree
felled near Cumshewa. The grain is tight and straight. The wood soft, and apart from
the odd bits of rot, perfect for carving. Jim explains that trees of this kind, once plentiful,
have become difficult to find on Haida Gwaii. Most of the old growth is gone, and there
are few cedars of this age and quality left standing in what little remains.

Jim began carving the pole in Old Massett before moving it down to Second Beach.
He says the pole under the tarps isn't much different from what he had in mind when he
began the project, which is how he like to carve. "You have to stick to your original idea,"
he says. "You have to stick to your plan. That's the trick." ::

SpruceRoots Magazine - September/October 2000