Sunday, March 13, 2016 


City Seen

Carving Out Culture

Local artist's works hang around the world

Submitted/ Voice photo


he Voice ran into Steven Charlie at Five Corners last week where he was meeting a customer looking to buy one of his fine carvings.


Asian Art Copy

Steven Charlie is a fifth-generation carver. Before him, his great-great grandfather, great grandfather, grandfather, and father all carved. He follows in their path, but it is to his paternal grandfather, Dominic Charlie, that Steven owes the direction of his life’s work.


Steven was born and raised in North Vancouver. His parents, Steve Charlie and Beatrice Dick, worked diligently to support their children. It was left to paternal grandparents Dominic and Josephine Charlie to oversee the children’s upbringing, which, Steven says, they did with “love, happiness, and kindness.” Steven in particular gained from his grandfather the spirit and the mindset for the family tradition as carvers.

Dominic Charlie was a tireless carver who was never bored. He woke at daybreak and went to bed with the sunset. And during most of his waking hours, he carved—patiently and skillfully. It took him 10 years, Steven recalls, to carve a canoe. Dominic desired less to finish things quickly than well. He would nonetheless start a new carving every day.

Each day, moreover, Dominic would have a different story about a different animal that he would relate to Steven and his siblings. Through those stories, Steven says, “grandfather taught us to be quick, to listen well, and to have a good heart and mind.”

The stories center on native people’s belief that a creator instructed animals to take care of people, north, south, east, and west, and that without the help of the animals the people could not survive. “Animals,” explains Steven, “show humans through their hunger, pain, and sorrow how to fish, to hunt, to love, and to take care of one another. Food, medicine, clothing, shelter all come from or through the actions of animals.

“Today,” Steven asserts, “I depict the animals from my grandfather’s stories in my carvings. My works relate the place of animals in creation and as the source of food and clothing and medicine and shelter. I carve in red and yellow cedar and in birch, alder, and even cherry, and I use acrylic paints. Each color has meaning. Black reflects before time and male; red represents when time began and female; white equals the purity of all things and grandparents; yellow implies love, kindness, happiness, and children; and light blue spans the physical world into the spirit world.”

After 30 years as a carver, Steven continues to carve 8 hours to 12 hours a day—a work ethic also acquired from his grandfather. He works on site at Old Yale Log Homes on the corner of Young and Cartmell roads in Chilliwack on several pieces daily, each with a story based on those his grandfather taught him when he was a boy.

“Like my parents and grandparents before me,” he says, “I work hard to support my family. I now live in Chilliwack with Carol Francis and her children. We work to make a good life together, she as a wife and me as a husband and a carver. I pass on to her children and to my five children from a previous marriage the stories my grandfather told me in the hope that they will learn the lessons in those stories and take them to heart just as I have done.

“I also carry in my heart the gift I’ve received from my various teachers. I took a formal course under world-renowned carver Stan Green, with whom I’ve worked for 25 years. And I make every effort to pass on that gift. I’ve worked with the Stolo longhouse program for four years. Each summer, I teach young people the techniques of carving.

“I’m a carver. People make me an artist. In wood, I see beauty and the animals from my grandfather’s stories. I do not plan my carvings. They come out as I work.

“I’m proud and happy with each of my carvings. The stories behind them are very important to me. They are who I am and embody my spirit and my thoughts and my beliefs. And when I leave this earth, my works will be a commemoration of my life.”






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