Sunday, March 13, 2016
Carving Out Culture
Local artist's works hang around
Submitted/ Voice photo
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
“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.”
The Valley Voice
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