Wednesday, July 28, 2010


haida nisga'a luke parnell3 I’ve come to the conclusion that the number 52 is no longer relevant to my project.  The reason I chose 52 was because I wanted to convey the idea of the passage of time.  That this story began long ago and continues today, 52 for 52 weeks, one year.  As I have worked on the project though I’m realizing that it isn’t necessary.  My artist statement will explain my motivations for creating the work and anyone who doesn’t read the artist statement will have their own reading of the work. haida nisga'a luke parnell4

So, I’ve been looking for a significant number of pieces to use in the piece, here’s what I’ve come up with; over 460 ancestors have been returned to Haida Gwaii, 48 have been returned from the American museum of natural History(AMNH) and from North America(NA) 400 have been repatriated with 3 on long term loan.

In most of my calculations I’ve got myself creating one for every ten ancestors, except for the AMNH 48 and the NA 40 +3.  48 is 1/1, each piece referring to an actual ancestor, where as 46 is 1/10 each piece referring to ten ancestors.  I guess it depends on how personal I want the work to feel.  46 will refer to the whole project, 48 to specific ancestors, I don’t know if I am related to any of the ancestors from the AMNH, I could be and that would help in my decision making process.  I’m going to have to come up with an actual title for this work.

haida nisga'a Luke Parnell2 haida, nisga'a Luke parnell1

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

52 Technician of the sacred

Creating this work has brought me to places I didn’t know I would go.  The first figure was created with a neutral gaze, very safe, very…  academic.  If you remember, I plan to create each figure with a different facial expression, the expressions will range from subtle to extreme.  The next figure I created was angry face and I have to admit, I found it unnerving.  I should have known that in creating emotion I would cause an emotional response, especially within myself. 52, Luke Parnell, carving Nisga'a Haida art 52 nisga'a haida art luke parnell

In the book “Bird of Paradox”, Wilson Duff coined the phrase “Technicians of the sacred”, he was describing carvers.  I interpreted that statement as the creation of new artefacts rather than art.  I disagree with respect and have always battled the idea that carvers do not create contemporary art.  So much so that when I had a solo show, I titled it “Technician of the Split - U”(the split U being a design element of NWC carving).bird of paradox, wilson duff

With 52 if feel like I’m going to an emotional place I’ve never gone before, I came close with the mask “Disturbed”disturbed019 , that was more personal than spiritual.  I created each of the figures to go in small acrylic boxes and when I placed the two finished figures in the boxes I was left with an uneasy feeling, like I had created something sacred.  My overactive imagination is a part of being a creative person, so I  can deal with the occasional craziness of creation.  however, I will need to look at different ways of reading this work, because my uneasiness is holding me back a little.

52, luke parnell, carver nisga'a haida 52, Haida, nisga'a art, luke parnell

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

52 continued

treespirits1 I’ve been extremely busy with the Red Runners show and running a few Northwest coast art workshops in the city of Toronto recently, so work on 52 has come to a stand still.  However, with those things wrapping up I will have around five weeks to work on it before I head west to work on my Master of Applied Arts degree at Emily Carr.  Though I have not worked on 52 I’ve been thinking about the origins of the idea, not the concept but the look of the work.

I look at these little figures I've created and I am reminded of two things; Charles Edenshaws supernatural beings carved in argillite and the Kodama tree spirits from the anime Princess Mononoke.edenshaw2   It is natural that I would be influenced by the things I’ve seen, I don’t think its something I should ignore but something I should cherish.  Princess Mononoke is a brilliant movie about the struggle between human progress and the natural world.Kodama tree spirits1

When I decided on the look of the figures I needed to carve them in Haida style.  I am half Haida half Nisga’a but I have carved in a Nisga’a style most of my career.  I have some experience in Haida style from working on a couple of totem poles with Lyle Campbell.  I needed to learn more about haida style faces so I studied the Three Watchmen installation by Robert Davidson at College Park in Toronto.three watchmen, robert davidson

I have made it my mission statement to study the old masters rather than spend to much time studying the work of my contemporary’s.  I feel if I am going to continue a legacy then I need to know where the legacy began and Charles Edenshaw is an important part of that legacy.Charles_Edenshaw

three watchmen robert davidson 2

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Red Runners

Red Runners is exploring First Nations Identity through the use of a common object.  This is a group show featuring 14 First Nations artists of diverse background and media.  They will, to coin a phrase, allow us to walk a mile in their moccasins.  While their stories are different they come from a similar place, for these reasons we chose the running shoe as the common object. redrunners re design

This is my first curatorial project, the exhibition co-curator is Jason Jenkins, we are being mentored by Robert Houlerobert houle and Bonnie Devine.bonnie devine  

The organization we are working for is the Miziwe Biik employment and training corporation and the project is funded by the Ontario Arts Council. miziwe biik logo oac

When we started this project we were given some parameters for the project; the exhibition had to be accessible to the common native person, it wasn’t suppose to be to “artsy” but not too kitsch.  And we were told to think outside the box, these parameters don’t seem too restrictive but it was actually quite hard to come up with a solution.  Jason is of mixed heritage so he wanted to explore that theme and I was pretty open to any theme as I figure the idea is to get curatorial experience.

As a part of a series of  workshops facilitated by Robert we went to the Bata shoe museum to see the exhibition “Beauty, Identity, Pride: Native American Footwear”.ex-beauty-cherokee_200w-2 ex-beauty-lakota_200w   This show had traditional foot wear from all over North America and I felt the footwear told the stories of the people who they created them and who they created them for.  I have also been interested in running shoes as artworks  for quite a while, having been a reader of Juxtapose magazine for many years.louie gong   I never imagined we could re-imagine runners as a medium for the expression of First Nations identity.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Creating work for the exotic other

eagleclanhat018 When I first started carving I also sung and drummed in a traditional Nisga’a dance group, they are the Git Muk Mukia Nisga’a.  It was important to me to know more about my culture as I am a Nisga’a/Haida carver.  Its ironic, half of the pieces in the old days were created for dance groups and now unless the pieces are donated most dance groups couldn’t afford to buy the masks, rattles ,bowls, etc. they need to perform.wolvesbowl016   I suppose it’s a change in audience, in the old days the work was created for Native peoples, now the work is created for a colonial audience.  Most of the work I create isn’t even functional and I know a lot of the work created by other carvers isn’t functional either, so who are we making it for?  Not for ourselves, but for the non-exotic other, for the person who has enough money to pay for it.

DSC00298 DSC00300 So once in a while I need to create something functional, a rattle, a bowl etc.  I’ve been experimenting with creating a mask that a drummer or singer could wear while singing.  My first experimental singing mask was more like a carnival mask(though quite restrained comparably).  I feel this was a failure and has since been taken apart.  My second attempt has been much more successful.  I had a eureka moment while creating this mask and it ended up being quite different than I intended.  When worn it looks like a small figure sitting on your forehead, the figure is wearing a blanket which wraps around your head, the blanket advertises your crest, in this case the eagle(Laxgiik) clan.  I am hoping to create more in this style but with actual clan figures(eagle, wolf, etc.). DSC00305 DSC00306

Both pieces are made from bass wood, I use bass wood for a lot of my new work because here in Toronto it is readily available to me.  Bill Reid, Lyle Campbell and other carvers have used Bass wood so I don’t feel like I’m totally out there in using a material not traditionally used by my people.  I mention this because my new work “52” is made from bass wood and not cedar, it’s a nice wood.  It carves like a less gooey yellow cedar and has none of the allergenic oils, it doesn’t smell as nice though, it kind of smells like an intense cardboard.

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A brief history of northwest coast design


historyofdesign007 I would like to explain the meaning behind my piece “A brief history of Northwest coast design”.  This work consists of eleven planks placed side by side to make up one installation.  Each plank is representative of a moment in the history of Northwest coast art, together they tell a story.  The story begins the day before first contact or the good old days as I call them, the second panel takes place much later when our culture was documented and collected.  After this what wasn’t collected was allowed to fall, some literally rotted on the side of the road others were painted over to be used in our new world.  Though hidden the art survived, kept by artists, storytellers and elders they just needed time to bring the art back to the people.  Recovery began with a few master artists publicly displaying their work and a full renaissance began.  Many artefacts were kept by museums around the world, however only an infrared camera could reveal the designs hidden under a hundred years of patina.  Once recovered the designs were painted on plywood and published for a new generation of artists to learn from the masters.  It would seam we have come full circle, however there are gaps in our knowledge and some of the designs are now untranslatable and the meanings are lost. DSC00311

The design I chose for this piece is a raven box design because I always think of the raven as the being who found the pieces of the world and put them together.  On each wing is a human which is who the story is about and on the chest of the Raven is mouse woman.  She is a witness and helper, especially when some one is traveling between worlds, as this work travels between contemporary and traditional.DSC00310

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

new project, “52”

DSC00322 I’ve been thinking about this piece for about a year now, I still don’t have a solid title.  The original title was “52”, but I  knew that was just a working title.  The installation consists of fifty two carved figures each in a transparent acrylic box.  The figures are 9.5”/5”/2.25”, they will fit in the boxes snugly.  When installed the boxes will lay on the floor in rows of four. DSC00302

I roughed out each figure on the band saw and now have begun carving the details.  Each figure is identical with one exception, each will have a different facial expression and none will have eyes.  I’ve ordered the acrylic for the boxes and will construct them soon.  With the price of the acrylic and the wood I figure this project will cost me about $800 to $1000 dollars to produce, I love it. DSC00324

This work is inspired by the Haida repatriation project and an interview I saw on T.V.  The Haida’s repatriated the remains of our ancestors from museums from around the world  and brought them back home to be buried.  In the interview I saw, a Haida woman was speaking of her experience of hearing voices in the halls where the Haida remains were being held.  I will talk more about this project as it unfolds


Past Now


DSC00310 I had a recent exhibition of my work, I exhibited with Meryl McMaster.  She is first nations photographer, for this exhibition she fused pictures of herself with old Curtis photographs.  The exhibition was called Past Now, I had four pieces in the show; “Evolution” my totem pole, “Obsession, Desire” a panel, “A brief history of Northwest coast design” an installation piece and a new piece called “transformation mask” which is as good as calling it “Untitled” because it is a transformation mask. DSC00320

The curators were Lisa Meyers and Suzanne Morisette, they did a good job, I thought Meryl and my work worked well together.  The idea of past now fits, Meryl ghosting herself with the Curtis photo’s and my work though traditional in style comes from a contemporary place, our work is past now. DSC00313

The new piece “transformation mask” is the first transformation mask I have ever created.  For this reason I used the Eagle(Laxgiik), my crest, and the beaver, my main sub-crest, on the inside.  It was a lot of fun, I haven’t worked under that kind of pressure in a long time.  I miss the days when I would carve seven days a week for ten hours a day, I spend a lot more time here in Toronto being an artist rather than creating art.DSC00315