Elsie John

Northwest Coast Native Artist Elsie John from Nuu-chah-nulth Nation

Nuu-chah-nulth Nation

Elsie was born April 6th, 1961 in Esperenza, British Columbia. She was raised in Nuchatlaht, a village located along the West Coat of Vancouver Island. Elsie John is a world-renowned carver, and is one of the only female Native artists in Canada to have mastered the fine art of carving ivory. She also works in such media as mammoth and mastadon tusks, fossilized walrus tusks, bear and walrus teeth, moose, elk and caribou antlers, mountain goat and buffalo horns, whale teeth and bones.

As a youngster in her early teens, Elsie received instruction and inspiration from her grandfather, Jimmy John, an internationally renowned artist, well known for his carvings of totem poles, masks and silvers jewelry. John was a direct descendant of Chief Maquinna of the Nuu-chah-nulth people, who first greeted Captain Cook at the entrance of Nootka Sound. John, a hereditary chief through his bloodline, passed away in 1988 at the age of 114.

Although Elsie did not receive formal training, the guidance of both traditional and cultural expertise she received from her grandfather far exceeded any scholastic experience she might have gained from a formal academic institution. The traditional and cultural art forms that Elsie integrates into her carvings are not taught in any of the First Nation’s fine arts programs in Canada.

Works by this Artist (Present + Past + Public)

Present Works

  • Goat Horn Ladle

    Elsie John



    Goat Horn, engraved, with Yellow Cedar wood base

    Spoons and ladles were traditionally made from either cedar wood or the horn of a mountain sheep, and their handles were carved with family crest images. Historically, these exquisitely sculptured objects were primarily created by people in Northern Nations, and were highly sought after by other nations. During potlatches [festive gatherings], cedar ladles decorated with the hosting family’s crests were used to serve food, while the elaborately carved mountain sheep spoons were distributed as gifts among the many guests.

    Today, spoon and ladle productions are based on these traditional objects and are meant to be both objects of function and display. In addition to traditional mediums such as cedar wood, goat or mountain sheep horn, many modern-day spoons and ladles are constructed of gold, silver and pewter.