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. 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.
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.).
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.