"Art was our only written language. It documented our progress as a people, it documented the histories of the families. Throughout our history, it has been the art that has kept our spirit alive."
—Robert Davidson, Haida artist
Of the roughly 4,000 Haida people living today, most reside on Haida Gwaii, also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, where their ancestors have lived for more than 5,000 years. The ocean surrounds the Haida on all sides, defining their culture, providing their food and shaping their stories and traditions. Although some of their ancestral villages now lie empty, the Haida have preserved the central elements of their culture, including dances, songs, potlatch ceremonies and their language, which growing numbers of young Haida are learning.
Long known as prolific totem pole carvers, the Haida were also the first, in the 1800s, to carve miniature totem poles from slate and sell them to tourists as souvenirs. Around that time, Charles Edenshaw and other Haida artists were early pioneers in the development of the engraved silver bracelet, now another regional icon. Edenshaw and his contemporaries set the standard for the hundreds of Haida artists working today.
Featured Artist: Christian White
Drawing inspiration for his jewelry-making from traditional Haida stories, Christian White often creates a piece to illustrate a particular scene or character.
"Each time I hear a Haida story again I'm inspired by a new part that I've never understood before. There's a constant renewal of ideas for me."
"I mainly carve in argillite, a black, carbonaceous shale found on Haida Gwaii. I've been carving it since I was about twelve years old. My father Morris White was carving argillite at that time, so I picked up his tools."
"We get the stone ourselves and carry out maybe 100 pounds on our backs for several miles. I cut it up into usable pieces and put aside the larger pieces for sculptures and the smaller pieces for jewelry."
Featured Artist: Jim Hart
Celebrated artist Jim Hart has created pieces for clients around the world, including a 30-foot totem pole for the Swedish royal family. Hart always strives to adhere closely to the classic Haida style.
"When I was a kid, my great-aunts would tell me how valuable Haida art was. But I took it all for granted. It was only late in high school that I began to realize that we have an art style and a culture that are truly great."
"Looking at old Haida pieces, in museums mostly, I get so excited, realizing that that was our written language. It just makes me want to carve, carve, carve."
"Today, it's what you do with that language that's what counts. Our art represents who we are. So I really feel pressure to do well, and to spend the time on a piece to finish it properly. Because it's representing me. It's representing my people."
Featured Artist: Don Yeomans
Don Yeomans first learned to carve from his grandmother's niece Freda Diesing. He has evolved into one of today's most innovative Haida artists.
"I worked in wood for the first ten years; then I branched into design and graphics. Jewelry was for me—and I believe it should be—the last frontier."
"When I wanted to learn about jewelry making, I looked around the community and found Phil Janze and Gerry Marks and began working with them. I made a deal with Phil that I would teach him to carve wood and he would teach me jewelry. I learned a lot from the texturing process that comes from the hammering of metal. I transfer that directly into my woodcarving to add a different way of catching light."