Carving space to share stories

It was a season for learning new skills and sharing stories through art, as students gathered with Cree/Dakelh artist Clayton Gauthier for wood carving sessions through the winter months.

March 30, 2023
UNBC students John Mainville (left) and Brent Elias (right) spend time honing their wood carving skills with Cree/Dakelh artist Clayton Gauthier (centre).

As the Winter Semester draws to a close at UNBC, so, too, do wood carving sessions for students hosted by the First Nations Centre at the Prince George campus. Rather than see the final session as an ending, both the students and artist involved view the time spent together as the start of many new possibilities.

The students have been meeting with Cree/Dakelh artist Clayton Gauthier in the First Nations Centre and in Lhuhuhwhezdel: The Gathering Place, where they’ve been surrounded by the 32 cedar planks he carved and painted as part of the Nenachalhuya – The Cedar Plank Project. Having artwork reflective of the northern B.C. First Nations and communities served by UNBC provided the perfect backdrop for the sharing that occurred during the wood carving sessions.

man in black t-shirt and black hat sits at a table with a wooden carving.“I feel there are many different art forms that are coming alive again within the territories here,” says Gauthier. “People – students, Elders, children – they want to learn different art forms from the land and there’s a big shift happening here as a result. By sharing knowledge and being open to different territories, different cultures, I feel it’s changing perspectives and people are realizing we’re all in this together - we’re all sharing and we’re all learning together.”

Photo at left shows Gauthier with one of the carvings he worked on over the course of the semester, while mentoring students on their projects.

The Prince George-based artist says he began in January by sharing pieces of his own art journey with the students and sharing the importance of art as a language, too. “Art has always been a place where I can go to share my feelings, where I won’t be judged,” says Gauthier. “Sharing my feelings through art is also a sense of release – releasing my feelings in a positive, loving way.

“I feel it’s so new and fresh here, so I’m just doing the best I can as an artist to share what I know and what I’ve learned and to be also open to what they’re teaching me, too. The different art styles that are here in the University – there are so many different nations here, so it’s been impressive to learn from the students, too.”

The sessions ran four hours, with Gauthier and the students taking breaks and often sharing a meal over the lunch-hour. It worked well for Brent Elias, who would go to his classes and come back throughout the session.

Man in tan t-shirt carves wooden plank at a tableBorn in Inuvik, Elias says, he has always been interested in carving. “Carving is traditionally something a lot of Inuit people do in their downtime, three-dimensional carving particularly,” he says. “Sculpture carving is my preferred method because I feel like the 3D aspect is how I think.”

Photo at right shows Elias carving a fine detail in his image.

The Bachelor of Arts student is in his second year at UNBC, majoring in Anthropology. He has been working on a number of carving projects over the course of the semester, from his plank to a small carving of the Greek god Janus, to wooden stamps featuring finely detailed images.

“It’s been nice having community, having other people around to talk and share,” says Elias. “I spend a lot of time by myself carving, so it’s been nice to have other people around.”

Woman in black t-shirt carves wooden plank at a tableBachelor of Arts student Shereen Sousa is in her first year of the First Nations Studies/Women Studies program and saw the sessions as an opportunity to learn a new art form. “It’s another way to express creativity,” she says. “I very much enjoy painting and this was a way to learn a new medium for that expression.”

Photo at left shows Sousa working on her cedar plank, which she's titled Ode to Childhood.

Sousa’s plank carving is also serving as her project for an Ethnobotany class. “Originally, I had planned to have it all carved out and to make some natural stains out of plant materials to stain the wood, but I ran out of time and will have to get to that after the semester,” she says. “Clayton has already given me some great ideas about natural stains he’s done, so that’s going to be really exciting.”

For his part, Gauthier says while the focus of the carving sessions was to learn about the wood – how each piece is unique, how to work with it, how to use wood-working tools – the time spent in Lhuhuhwhezdel also provided the space for sharing.

“A lot of heartfelt stories have been shared here, with different students sharing their life story as we’re working. I would say a lot of healing has come from it, too.” He adds, “Some of the students want to go further with it and keep it going, they were asking if it would happen again next year. I think it’s really up to the students, if they want it to happen, it will happen.”

The University community is invited to stop by Lhuhuhwhezdel on Tuesday, April 4 at noon for an informal gathering to share in celebrating the end of the wood carving sessions, see the planks and meet with Gauthier and Elders.