SpruceRoots Magazine - September/October 2000

 

Norman Price and Matt Ridley at work on the Skidegate Pole :: detail

the carvers

Norman's crew was the second to begin carving and the first to the finish line.
His pole lies alone in its shed, covered only by a layer of preservative and a transparent
tarp, waiting for the moment when it will stand, unveiled, early next spring.

The book Haida Monumental Art can be found in more than one of the carvers' sheds, and
Norman's is among them. His copy is dog-eared, a little dirty, and many of the pages are marked.
He's constantly referring to it. Not for the text, which he ignores, but for the wealth of reproduced
plate photographs displayed upon its pages.

The photos, most of them taken at the turn of the last century, document the hundreds of poles
standing in more than a dozen villages around the islands atthe time. The crests, figures, and styles
from generations of artists are clearly represented. Today they inspire and guide a carver working
in the same place, but at a very different time.

Norman obviously takes a few cues from the work captured in the tired book's photos - he refuses to
paint his pole because the old ones never were. His pole features a Grizzly bear with two cubs at the base,
an eagle, a mouse, a raven, and three watchmen crown the top.

His style is simple and straightfoward, and so is his approach. His assistants are Matt Ridley, who's carved
wood, argillite, and even antlers for nearly forty years, and Jesse Jones, his great-nephew.

Jesse is probably the youngest carver on the beach. He started carving three years ago and since then
has worked with Giitsxaa and Norman. When he's working next to Norman and absorbing directions,
the contrast between the two is startling. The lead carver's skin is creased and chiseled by the years,
while Jesse's is smooth and unblemished.

This mix of things old and new, of decay, growth, and renewal is everywhere at Qay'llnagaay, and most
obvious in the poles themselves. The aged, moss-grizzled remnants at SGaang Gwaii, fading reminders of
the past and the history of this craft will soon be joined by fresh examples from living hands to inspire
future generations.


SpruceRoots Magazine - September/October 2000