4 totems – fire, earth, water, wind – by Curtis Dickie

In July 2022 I paired with Northern Rockies Art Council and Curtis Dickie of the Kwakwaka’wakw and Dene people and living in Fort Nelson B.C.

Curtis was carving four totems – fire, earth, water, and wind – for Hudson’s Hope school longhouse. For an article of the project see https://www.alaskahighwaynews.ca/regional-news/hudsons-hope/hudsons-hope-longhouse-taking-shape-5672597

Sketches for Fire and Water

Over the next few weeks I would visit Curtis as he was carving and take photos of the process from start to finish. We would sit and talk and discuss the trials and errors that went along with carving a totem out of Douglas fir – not the traditional cedar. Fir was used because it would be more hardy for the cold and wet weather in the northern part of B.C. , whereas red cedar is primarily found only in southern and coastal areas of western Canada and USA.

By the third week of August, the totems had to be completed, which gave only a month of carving. Curtis encountered a few hiccups along the way, with a couple pieces having large cracks, and one with several big knots in the section that was marked for carving. Adjustments to the design had to be made in order to fit the elements Curtis wanted for his design. He had to sacrifice some artistic elements in order to ensure the carving stayed together and didn’t break. Some elements in his carvings have hidden designs within the animal. Can you find the wise man, raven, and the fish hidden in two of the other figures? A few final embellishments were added like ’empty space’ behind arms (the wood is lifted off of the pole itself with free space behind it), and finishing nails for eyes.

Unfortunately, I was unable to be there on the final day to see ‘wind’ completed – I will need to make a trip out to Hudson’s Hope to see the finished building and all of the totems in place.

I want to say thank you to NR Art Council and Nancy for contacting me about this opportunity, and Mahsi Cho to Curtis for allowing me to share in documenting this beautiful carving process. I look forward to working with you again in the future!

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