Gwaai Edenshaw – Curator’s Choice Winter 2024blog
In the heart of the Ts’aalth clan, Gwaai (Hluugiitgaa) was born in 1977, inheriting a legacy steeped in the rhythmic cadence of carving tools. His parents, Jenny Nelson and Guujaaw, cultivated an environment where creativity thrived, laying the foundation for Gwaai’s remarkable journey.
Amidst his father’s carvings in Skidegate, Gwaai’s artistic path intertwined with the uniform beauty of Haida design. Guided by the legendary Bill Reid, he embarked on a quest to master the ancient forms of Haida expression, each stroke of his chisel imbued with reverence for his heritage.
At Vancouver Community College, Gwaai honed his craft in Jewelry Art and Design, crafting intricate pieces that mirrored the ebb and flow of the ocean. Gold, silver, copper, and Argillite became his canvas, adorned with Abalone shell accents that shimmered with the spirit of the sea.
His Impressed Jewelry collection, a testament to the interplay between traditional imagery and modern design techniques, reflects the beauty of contemporary Indigenous art. Delicately etched with echoes of traditional Haida motifs, each piece captures the essence of Pacific Northwest Coast culture.
Employing a three-step process, Gwaai breathes life into his creations. Beginning with a carved metal plate, he meticulously stamps his chosen design onto sterling silver or copper, infusing the material with the inspiration of his vision. The result is a symphony of form and function, where delicate impressions tell stories of age-old wisdom and enduring legacy.
With a deft hand, Gwaai introduces heat and salts to oxidize the material, bestowing upon it a unique finish that evokes the weathered beauty of time-worn treasures. From the subtle elegance of silver to the warm hues of copper embellished with the brilliance of Abalone shell, each piece speaks to the richness of Indigenous heritage and the boundless creativity of its steward.
In the realm of cinema, Gwaai co-directed “Edge of the Knife,” a cinematic tribute to Haida heritage, captivating audiences at the Toronto International Film Festival. His commitment to preserving Haida traditions extends to theatrical endeavours like “Sounding Gambling Sticks” and K’ah Productions, a storytelling society dedicated to indigenous narratives.
Collaborating with his brother Jaalen, Gwaai’s monumental totem poles stand as testaments to Haida resilience. From the “Two Brother Pole” in Jasper Park to the “Gwaii Haanas Legacy Pole” in traditional Haida territory, each creation embodies continuity and renewal.