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  • Penny Gunderson

James Hart, Carving Reconciliation

While at Haida Gwaii, I had a profound experience when we went to Old Masset and visited James Hart’s carving shed. His apprentices were busy carving on their own yellow cedar pieces while James and his son Gwaliga carved on the massive totem pole Reconciliation. This pole, destined for UBC, is a tribute to the Truth and Reconciliation process to acknowledge the pain and suffering caused by the Residential School System.

James Hart is the Chief of the Eagle Clan. He is a Master Carver and supervises his own carving shed.

James and his son gave me permission to take photos only while they were carving on the totem pole. After they looked at some photos of my encaustic portraits they gave me permission to complete portraits from my photos.

James explained the planning for the pole and how in the middle of the curved organic Haida totem symbols squatted an unlikely square residential school. He told us of the sacredness of copper and that there would be a copper nail pounded into the totem for every child who died at a residential school. He and one of his apprentices sorted and chose abalone shells to set into the totem.

It was a spiritual experience to watch them carve and hear the reasoning behind the totem poles design. My friends and I agreed that visiting the carving shed was the one experience we wouldn’t have wanted to miss from that journey to Graham Island.

I chose to paint the encaustic portrait of James hart on a wooden cradle board since he works with wood. I did an under sketch in walnut ink and painted many layers of wax. I carved as I worked since his work involves carving.

The portrait features an intense triangle of concentration between James eyes and body, through his outstretched arms and tensed fingers, cumulating in the curl of wood being carved from the totem. I wanted to honor James desire to be captured working intensely at his craft.

This piece was entered in the Waxing Poetic Show by Canwax West western Canada’s encaustic organization. It won the Pushing Boundaries Award for the use of carving in encaustic

#JamesHart #EncausticPortrait #ResidentialSchool #Carving #Totem #HaidaGwaii

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