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Program trains emerging indigenous artists in the craft and business of wood carving

By RYLEY WHITE | JUN 07 2016

A new generation of British Columbia’s indigenous wood carvers is getting support from a forestry research-funded art program to help their careers take root.

Opening Doors gives budding artists from First Nations communities in B.C. the opportunity to create their own hand-carved door. The program launched last summer with 10 students training at Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver and the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art in Terrace, B.C.

Over four weeks, the group learned from established wood carvers and created their own pieces from red and yellow cedar panels. The resulting 26-inch by 70-inch doors reflect a range of styles and traditions, says Brenda Crabtree, Aboriginal program manager at ECUAD.

ECUAD student Edwin Neel carved the image of Thunderbird into this cedar door, titled Kulus, to honour his Kwakwaka’wakw and Nuu-chah-nulth heritage. He created it as part of the Opening Doors program last summer. Photo by Kamil Bialous.
ECUAD student Edwin Neel carved the image of Thunderbird into this cedar door, titled Kulus, to honour his Kwakwaka’wakw and Nuu-chah-nulth heritage. He created it as part of the Opening Doors program last summer. Photo by Kamil Bialous. Click for a full-size image of the door.

Ms. Crabtree and Chris Gaston, a forestry professor at the University of British Columbia, created Opening Doors so that emerging Aboriginal artists might create something valuable and marketable from one of the region’s most important natural resources. Despite a long history of design and a great deal of artistic talent in the province’s indigenous communities, Dr. Gaston says that when it comes to making money from wood, many people in these communities “rarely do much more than sell logs.” The hand-carved door panels, however, could sell for about $15,000, he says.

The program, funded by FPInnovations, a non-profit forestry research company, not only introduces emerging artists to a high-end art-buying market, but provides the carvers access to computer numerical control (CNC) technology to quickly reproduce their work.

“We took the original door panels, we had them scanned and that turns them into a very high-resolution, detailed electronic file that you feed into the CNC router, and it will spit out a copy,” Dr. Gaston explains. The original can take up to eight weeks to carve, while the CNC process takes shaves that down to three hours with about a week of finishing the copy by hand, Dr. Gaston says. These reproductions could likely sell for about $5,000.

CNC can also help teach younger generations of carvers. “It’ll be way easier for them [the artists] to teach the technique of carving on this already roughed out piece than it would be starting from scratch,” Dr. Gaston says.

Organizers haven’t yet confirmed this year’s program, though Dr. Gaston says there’s already a wait-list.

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  1. Valerie Templeman / June 9, 2016 at 9:30 am

    Beautiful. When will they offer this course again?

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