Research into Haida totems.
I have been in contact with Leslie Johnson of the Gowgaia Institute, Haida Gwaii (also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands), Canada, regarding totem carvings of the Haida.
Excellent information about these people is available on the net and the on-line Encyclopedia Britannica is fairly comprehensive with links to follow for in-depth info on particular aspects.
The Haida are an indigenous people who mainly reside on the archipelago of Haida Gwaii in northern British Columbia but also live in south-east Alaska. Traditionally, as they settle close to water – hence the islands and the coastal regions they inhabit – their economy came from fishing and hunting and they were known for their seamanship. Some similarities exist between Haida and Australian Aboriginals in the form of story-telling, carvings and reverence for, and connection to, land and sea creatures.
The Haida focus much of their art on carving and the creative embellishment of wood, in essence, totems, masks and other statues. Their totems fall mainly into 7 categories which are detailed here with some good pictures. I am looking at one totem in particular.
The Carvers: Guujaaw, Wayne Edenshaw, Gwaii Edenshaw.
There are many more step by step photos on the site but here are a few to give the idea of scale. All the tools except one knife have been hand-made.
The images are first drawn on the wood but there is opportunity to make changes as the work progresses. There are some interesting photos of the bear paws as they are designed and then modified. Above from left I am showing carvings at various stages of the bear, bear cub, the thunderbird and the whale.
This may seem like it has nothing to do with textiles but the planning, sizing, proportions, provisional markings, working the piece in layers and final embellishment tread the same path.
I found a totem drawing tutorial so here is my first attempt. Yes, it took an age but it was fun.
I marked the proportions out first to get the animals in the right places and the sizing for each one correct. I’m not 100% sure exactly what each part is supposed to represent (after all, it isn’t my own design) but it looked less complicated once it was coloured.
The brown parts indicate where the natural wood would be left unpainted. With the additional black around the eyes it starts to seem quite ferocious, a bit menacing really.
Whilst working on this drawing sitting in the garden surrounded by my beagles I was lucky to spot a visitor trying to slip past unnoticed.
Not being terribly impressed by 3 beagles nearby he decided to clamber out of their reach. Not a bad idea really except he was then stuck on a corrugated roof in the blazing sun for a bit. At least I got some good photos showing his patterning and colouring.
Reproduced photographs with permission from: Lesley Johnson, Gowgaia Institute, Queen Charlotte, BC, VOT 1SO