March ABS challenge: Emily Carr’s Haida Totems

 Haida Totems, 1912 By Emily Carr Watercolor on Paper 76mm x 55mm BC Archives, Canada

Haida Totems, 1912
By Emily Carr
Watercolor on Paper
76mm x 55mm
BC Archives, Canada

It seems that each month brings a slightly different sort of challenge, or at least I keep finding new things to learn about my work as I do them! I loved the colors in her watercolor and I have always been fond of the Pacific Northwest, so I expected this month to be at least easier than last month. I did some searching for other images by Carr and found that she used more vibrant colors in other pieces and a bit about her history.

I was in NH for several weeks visiting my mother and I took advantage of her art library to see what she had on Inuit art in general and totems in particular. I realized that I was far more used to seeing strong contrasts and bold colors in both totems and Inuit prints, which led me to ponder the pale shades of Carr’s watercolor and what this discrepancy might mean to me.

Totems in Stanley Park, Vancouver

Totems at Stanley Park (from James Thornett’s Flickr feed)

When I searched for photos of the totems that remembered from Stanley Park in Vancouver back in the 1970’s, I was able to confirm that her colorway was quite a bit more subdued. In reading up on the differences in totem design between the various regions of the First Nations, I also learned that there is a distinct and widely acclaimed style for the Haida that I had not noticed before, where their images are more stylized with distinctive forms(as seen in the totem on the far right of the photograph above).

March 2015 ABS Challenge: Art Bead

Rustic style Art Bead; original texture carving and chalk inks over polymer.

I have tried doing sketches and other pieces in the past about the Southwest American rock art. Those efforts gave me a deep respect for other culture’s images, and I realized that I had some hesitation around doing any kind of direct “copy” of Inuit totem figures. Before I would be comfortable attempting anything like that, I felt I would need a far deeper understanding of their culture and reasons for the images than I would get in a month’s exploration. I decided to focus more on the memories and emotions that I connect with that region from my own visits and the overall feel of Carr’s work, and to allow myself to use symbols that were meaningful specifically to me, such as pine branches and carved wood.

March 2015 ABS Challenge: Necklace

Haida Totem’s ABS challenge: Polymer focal pendant and closure.

The necklace that I submitted for the challenge extends the evergreen frond image by including additional textures that are reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest for me, including a lobster-like crustacean form from an old wooden batik block that I picked up at an antique mall. The focal pendant background includes snippets of turquoise to represent the amazing color of the glacial runoff that I saw in the mountains of Oregon and the blue of the western Canadian coastal skies.