Corrinne Eira Evans’ research trip. Part 2

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Jeweller Corrinne Eira Evans is currently in Canada researching First Nations artists. We’ re really looking forward to seeing their influences in Corrinne’s new jewellery collections. In the second part of her blog, she tells us about her road trip to the north of Vancouver Island…

“After writing the first weeks blog, we had a slight change of plan. On Thursday we decided to head north up Vancouver Island to Alert Bay (Cormorant Island).

On route we stopped at a place called Duncan, where Tony Hunt, a well known First Nations carver, is carving a new Totem Pole for Canada’s 150 years celebrations. We had a great chat about aboriginal art and his culture. Part of the idea for him to be publicly carving is to encourage people to get involved and help carve a section – trying to educate and re-build bridges.

After having a go at carving, people can take a piece of the totem pole away as a souvenir. When a new totem pole is designed, a miniature is made before the creation of the main one. A totem pole trail goes from Victoria B.C all the way up to the north of the island and in Duncan a collection of all the miniatures are held in the council building. Many of these amazing large poles are situated in Duncan and it was so lovely to see.

An overnight stay half way at Campbell River, right on the edge of the water, made a great stop with fantastic views across Discovery Passage towards Quadra Island. The mountain range on the Gulf Islands and the main land set a backdrop of snowy peaks. Early the next morning we watched the sunrise and the boats hauling great bundles of logs down river.

A swift departure was needed from Campbell River on the Friday, as we had to be in time to catch the ferry to our final destination, Alert Bay. The highway was lined with great cedar trees stretching for miles in both directions, with snowy peaks poking up above them. Clouds hang between the mountains giving a very atmospheric drive. As we head north, the cars become fewer and the place gets a little more ‘wild’.

The ferry journey across from Port Mcneill to Alert Bay looked across the many islands spanning around it. Once off the ferry we headed to our cabin, Alert Bay Cabins. Although the island covers only 3 sq miles, it is quite hilly, with a population of just over 1,000. Half of these are First Nations of Kwakwaka’waka tribes. Beautifully individual and colourful houses sit near the water front and set back amongst the trees. The surrounding beach is pebbly and heavily stocked with giant sea worn logs.

On our first day we ventured to The Culture Shock Centre positioned near the ferry port. Here a wealth of local talent is showcased along with the very knowledgable and super friendly Andrea Cranmer, Namgis First Nations, who runs Culture Shock with the sisters Barb and Donna Cranmer (also very lovely).

In order to experience and learn more about the Kwakwaka’wakw culture and history we ventured up the Island to the traditional Gukwdzi (Big House) where every Thursday, Friday and Saturday they give a very special insight for visitors of their dances and culture. Not usually seen by outsiders they have very kindly opened this viewing up to public visitors to educate on their culture, making this a very special experience. The dancers were amazing, their movements so connected to the creatures and animals they were depicting, taking on their spirit. Seeing the masks come to life giving more relevance as previously seen in their static form. It was wonderful listening to the sounds of the drums and singing in the huge log building, with great totem poles and a fire pit in the centre in which the dancers danced around.

After the dance, Andrea very kindly put me in touch with her cousin, K’odi Nelson. For him his daily work comes from teaching but, as with most First Nation artists, creative talent runs strong and in between teaching he creates beautiful engravings in silver and gold. We arrange to meet for a coffee later that day and had a fabulous chat about collaborating.

On the Monday morning we met up at the Culture Shock centre and headed to his workshop at his mum’s house just up the road. Here his mum greeted us and very kindly showed us all the amazing work K’odi had made for her over the years. After a lovely chat we wandered downstairs to the basement area where K’odi’s workspace was all set up. Excitedly we discussed possible collaboration ideas and watched as he intricately engraved a hummingbird earring in gold. With an incredibly steady hand and swift movement, he elegantly added ovoids and feathers, even the tiniest of nose hole on the beak. Whilst teaching us how he does this, he grabs another engraver and starts pulling off more material in certain areas creating a relief effect. We had an amazing day, such an incredibly lovely family, and left K’odi’s feeling very excited for the journey ahead.

Even though we have spent 3 days in Alert Bay, we could have spent a lot longer – so much to see and do for such a small space. The U’mista Cultural Centre had the most amazing history and artefacts from their potlatches (ceremonial feasts) and the largest totem (173 ft tall) sits just outside the Gukwdi (Big House).

There’s just so much inspiration – a collection of very old totems are gathered together near the sea front, not to mention the atmospheric Ecological Park, the forest walks, whale watching, beach combing, Art Loft gallery and the Duchess selling Bannock (an indigenous food).

I haven’t even mentioned the incredible view from all around the island and the people are so kind and friendly. It was hard to leave, but new adventures lie ahead and contact with the beautiful people there will continue.”