Ivy and I had the privilege of working on the Celebrity Solstice Alaskan Cruise for the month of May, as a guest speaker and artist-in-action doing Tlingit carving demonstrations. I brought some cedar wood to carve while on the ship, but like many carvers, you’re always on the lookout for more.
As I mentioned I had pieces of red cedar. I wanted to get a block of freshly cut alder wood, so I texted a carver in Juneau to see if he had any on hand. The answer came back, yes. When we came into Juneau, Ivy and I got off the ship and took a shuttle to town. We made our way to the new art building that the Sealaska Heritage Institute built. There we met Ray Watkins who had some alder wood he recently cut for an upcoming carving class he was teaching. He gave me a block along with a piece of red cedar that was left over from building the art center. Sweet! I wasn’t planning on getting a piece of cedar associated with the new art building too!
Now I had a fresh cut piece of alder, which carvers refer to as green alder. The exciting thing about having some alder to carve is that the passengers get to see the different characteristics between the types of wood. This made for interesting carving demonstrations, as I like to switch from one piece to another during these carving sessions. The way I was able to demonstrate both the wood characteristics and carving techniques with the audience was through a headset microphone, which made it a lot easier to move around, carve, and explain each step of the process.
During our demonstrations the audience always had questions. Ivy came up with a great way to handle that. She became my Vanna White as she puts it. Ivy would be standing alongside with a handheld microphone and when someone had a question, she would go to them so all of us could hear the Q & A. She would also take the piece I was working on, to the audience, letting them see it, handle it, check out the progress up close.
We had a beautiful display of Tlingit culture on a table, masks I was working on, prepped cedar bark ready to make hair, regalia robes, headdresses, carved hats, weaved hats, and carving adzes. While I carved and talked to the audience, Ivy would take an item off the table display and bring it to the crowd to look at and handle. I also had my 4ft tall Devilfish mask on display there as well. Having a variety of finished pieces for the passengers to see was great. I would say to them now not only can they see a live carving demonstration, they get to see completed carvings!
Being on a weeklong Alaska cruise and doing carving demonstrations 3-4 times during that week isn’t enough time to finish a mask from start to finish. I shared that with the passengers. But as the month moved on so did the progress of the masks.
The Changing of the Tides mask:
Like I said above, it was nice to get a freshly cut piece of alder. I prepped it like I normally do. Carving a mask was the plan, a human face, but what the finished piece was going to look like was something I didn’t know. It’ll evolve like all my other carvings.
After I got the alder balanced and ready to put a design on it through the process of faceting, I started to draw the face profile on the blocks right side from the center line out. When I establish a profile that I like, I then transfer it to the other side with transfer paper. Now I’m ready to start carving the mask.
Up to this point I established a C/L all the way around the block, got facet shape on the top and bottom of the block, removed wood from the front of mask face using my adzes and hand planer down to the facet lines stopping points, and have the design on it. Ready, Set, Go! The Tlingit mask is balanced at this point. The challenge a carver has now is maintaining that balance.
One of the things I noticed about alder wood from Juneau is that it is more fibrous than the alder I get from Washington, making it more difficult from my experience.
As I’m carving the mask I’m thinking about a design theme and allow the creative mind to flow. When I have the mask face area carved including the shape of the forehead and jaw/chin areas. It’s pretty much a finished mask at this point. But I wanted to add some design elements around the lower face and make them pop out. This happens by removing wood around these areas.
On one side I wanted rolling ocean waves, and the other side a Native formline “U” shape, representing when this NW Native Art form came into existence. As I was removing the wood to make these elements pop, I was looking at how the surface of the alder had this flowing look to it. The thought of the Tlingit Chookaneidee exit song came to mind.
My Uncles told me our song was about “The Changing of Tides”. When the men would dance as we exit. For example, we would dance forward to the left say 10 o’clock 7 ft, then back; dance forward to the right 2 o’clock 7 ft, then forward a bit, turn around, and dance to the left or right a few feet; then turn around and keep dancing in different directions. All the men would dance this way not following the person in front of them, or behind, other than the fact that they are exiting as a group. This represented the tides changing or “The Changing of Tides”.
As I was painting the mask the idea of adding long black horsehair and a devils club nose bone to make the mask have an older tribal look.
The Tlingit people like many Indigenous people around the world experienced change. Like the Chookaneidees song of “Changing of Tides “. This concept is one they experienced daily since time immemorial. When I finished this mask, a thought came to me of how the indigenous people are continually changing directions to survive in this modern world!
I hope you enjoyed reading how my mind works when creating Tlingit art as much as I enjoy seeing it develop before my eyes as well!
Fred Fulmer Tlingit Artist