November 9, 2008

Carving a Spindle Whorl Part 1

Last spring I was awarded the YVR Art Foundation Scholarship. This helped me buy carving tools, research money, and take some time to focus on my Coast Salish art practice and to pick up carving again. Years ago I started carving with Jody Broomfield, a close relative of mine, but put it down, and now, am picking it back up again. This time I'm apprenticing with Aaron Nelson-Moody or Splash as everyone knows him. He is also my brother-in-law (his wife is my first cousin, which in my culture is my sister).

I'm currently writing the Coast Salish art article at wikipedia and will share a tid-bit about what Coast Salish art is:

Coast Salish art is an art is an art unique to the Pacific Northwest Coast among the Coast Salish peoples. It also differs from other Northwest Coast art in that it is more minimalist and straight forward. A believe in the overexposure of spirit images would weaken the spiritual powers of the beings portray made, and as a result very few pieces were produced. The art form is used in carving spindle whorls, house posts, welcome figures, canoes, combs, and bent wood boxes.

One of the most studied Coast Salish art form is the "Spindle Whorl". Whorls were placed on the wood shafts, the spindles, and the loose strands of wool were spun. Some of the circular spindle whorl would be plain, but others would have elaborate designs and beings depicted.

The conceptual artform has been a staple among many Coast Salish artists in their contemporary art. I felt it was an equally intriguing place to start on learning Coast Salish art and how to carve. As part of the art grant, I will be carving a replica of an old Sḵwxwú7mesh spindle whorl that may have belonged to my great-great-great grandmother ta7a Skisí7. What little information we know about the spindle whorl is that it was sold in front of the St. Paulls Church in Eslha7an for a bottle of milk and some bread.

The original piece and carving mentor Splash's replica depicted above.

It is now housed in the Burke Museum in Seattle Washington. As a learning tool, I decided to replicate this spindle whorl, both because of the historically value to my heritage, but also the creative and learning value the piece has to teach me. It's an incredible detailed piece with special nuances in depth and layers. Something that can be said about the best of Coast Salish art pieces. In my interpretation and replication, I will enlarge it 2-3 times so visually it was be easier to see the detail (and easier to carve. haha).

Lately I've taken my pencil, and my paper, and been drawing like crazy. Human beings, sea-lions, thunderbirds, sea-serpents, and eagles. I'm working on the "basics" like size in shapes, the proper formline, and layering of shapes.

Flat-design art and carving art differ in what you want to achieve so it takes a different way of thinking when working with either medium, but one does come from the other. The spindle whorl I'm carving right now, measuring approx. 7.5 inch, is my own creation. As you can see in the photo, I'm carving away the wood. What my current task is to create a slant emanating from the centre and slowly extend to the outside, but keeping it balance and even all the way around.

This isn't my first spindle whorl, but it feels refreshing and fun to pick up the carving knife and the wood again. There is something meditative about slowly working your away at it in slow and precise pressure. Gradually taking away the shards of cedar until the shape you desire emerges from the block.

The soul is a open ocean and the emotions command the volatile or ease of the waves, and this becomes ever more present in the strokes you take when carving. As you think, your body becomes filled with intense emotion from stress or happiness, and your knife takes this and applies it to the wood. So a check in balance is carefully watched. It's this intuitive self-reflection I enjoy so much. Paying attention the emotions, adjusting them accordingly, and watching the results come through.

The design that will go on here has been thought up, but not sketched out yet. All I can say for now is that it's a Thunderbird and human face. There's a story about how the knowledge of how to attain the spiritual shaman power came to my people from the Thunderbird, and another story of how the Thunderbird showed us the proper way after the Flood. Either way, my knowledge of tribal history and understanding of my people spirituality guide me in my creativity, which makes it so damn easy because all I have to do is ask myself "What story and the values expressed in that story, have a lot of value for me today?".

As I progress on this piece, I'll post updates and harvest on my blog what comes from the process.


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