From the pebble beach shores in Fort Rupert Village, I saw the grand 38-foot seafaring Tlingit style canoe in the waters of Port Hardy. I was in the crowd of the community who came out to watch this momentous event. Kwakwaka'wakw artist Calvin Hunt, the carver of the canoe, and his friends were putting the canoe to the test. This canoe ended up carrying the Olympic Torch across Port Hardy Bay during the 2010 Olympics Games in Vancouver.
Calvin Hunt is a successful and well-known native artist who specializes in Northwest Coast Indian Art. He is well traveled and has been commissioned around the world to carve. He has also showcased many of his masterpieces at many exhibitions during his life as an artist.
I pulled up to Calvin’s workshop and gallery. Even before I entered into his workshop, I could smell the wonderful natural aroma of cedar shavings that were in his carving shed. There was an unfinished totem pole that was lying in his workshop and there were finished canoe paddles lined up against the wall. As I looked around I thought, “This is where it all happens, cedars being transformed into beautiful Northwest Native art work.”
We walked upstairs to his gallery where he showed me all his completed pieces for sale. There was a collection of “one of a kind” masks, prints, paddles, jewelry, statues and much more. Each piece of art embodied its own unique story
Calvin was down to earth and a no nonsense kind of guy when I spoke with him. He’s been carving since he was 12 years old and I could tell that it came naturally to him as I watched him work on the totem pole. He spoke about how the Northwest Coast people considered the cedar wood sacred. They used it in everything from building canoes to totem poles, dance masks, weaving mats and baskets. They even used the bark for clothing since it was naturally water-repellent. That’s before Gore-Tex was invented. He said carvers love using the “Tree of Life” because of its appearance, softness, grain and natural resistance to decay.
A totem pole is significant as it records a family or oral history. Therefore it is important that carvers have an accurate understanding of the oral history because they are transferring that story onto their artwork, the totem pole. There are 3 general stages in totem pole carving: The rough work, the detailed work and then the painting. As with many artists, the idea or design will come from within. Calvin will think of how and what he will carve, then he will roughly sketch it out on the log. Once the first stage is completed, he works on bringing out the features through more detailed carving.
I was encouraged to see that the community in Fort Rupert is vibrant and strong. I experienced a close sense of community, support and respect among the young and old. It was an honor to be a part of this community for a day, to learn from Calvin and to fellowship with the Kwakwaka'wakw people.
114 Copper Way
Fort Rupert Village
1 (250) 949-8491www.calvinhunt.com