Shawn Karpes was born in Vancouver, B.C., on May 12th 1968. His training began in 1982 with George Hunt Jr., Jim Gilbert and Victor Newman during a Native art program sponsored by three levels of Victoria public schools. In this program Shawn began experimenting in three dimensional form and began concentrating on basic design, painting and woodcarving. During this time Shawn’s mother, Elisabeth Karpes (nee Alfred), was working at Arts of the Raven Gallery and introduced Shawn to many carvers. As Shawn has been raised in Whitehorse and lived there until 1977, the world of Northwest Coast carving was a new experience to him although one to which he was connected by birth.
This introduction developed into a study of his family as well as the culture and history of the Nimpkish and Kwakwaka’wakw. Through this study Shawn was able to meet and befriend many artists who in turn inspired his own work.
In 1987 Shawn Karpes began working at Raven Arts in Victoria with Tony Hunt Sr., Tony Hunt Jr., and John Livingston. During this period Shawn Karpes increased his skill in box design and mask carving techniques. To learn the art of silver and goldsmithing Shawn worked with Fah Ambers for two years. This was followed by an opportunity to work on canoes and various carving projects with renowned Kwakwaka’wakw artists Wayne Alfred and Beau Dick.
Shawn belongs to the Namgis (Nimpkish) band and descends from Alfred, Hunt, Scow and Inis families. In his work Shawn pursues both traditional designs and the natural world. He will often depict the supernatural world using a combination of the two.
For the past three years Shawn has been working for the carving program at the Royal British Columbia Museum. In 2001 he volunteered to work on the ITUSTO restoration of the world’s tallest totem pole at Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, B.C.
Some of Shawn’s commissions include a carved wooden paddle with a sun design for Glanford Elementary School, Victoria B.C, a whale welcome figure and door for Victoria Native Housing Commission, Victoria, B.C., a new totem pole for Thunderbird Park at the Royal British Columbia Museum carved with Shawn Whonnock and Johnathan Henderson, a talking stick with eagle and bear for the Denver Museum Public Programs, a whale panel for Sir James Douglas School in Victoria, B.C., and the restoration of the thunderbird at Naden Navy Base in Esquimalt, B.C. Shawn has carved various potlatch pieces for Alert Bay families. In 1990 special recognition was given to Shawn Karpes, Doug Cranmer, Stephen Bruce, Fah Ambers, Richard Sumner and Jason Baker for their contributions to the potlatch tradition.
1994-2001 Tribal Miniatures (annual miniatures exhibition), Alcheringa Gallery, BC
2001 Raven, Moon and Sun: Carvers of the Coast, Alcheringa Gallery, BC
1998 Killerwhale and Crocodile, Alcheringa Gallery, BC
1989 Hunt Family Show, Legacy Gallery, Seattle, Washington
Yellow Cedar wood
Halibut is an important food resource for the First Nations of the Northwest Coast—particularly to the people in the northern region, who had less access to salmon and eulachon (also known as a candlefish).
Halibut appears frequently in the shamanic and crest art with its characteristic body contour often used by carvers in feast bowls and platter designs.
Red Cedar wood, Abalone shell
A ceremonial dish, also known as a feast dish or potlatch dish, was a treasured heirloom which families brought out for great feasts as a gesture of hospitality and welcoming. Presently, many ceremonial dishes are carved in miniature form, meant for collectors who appreciate the historic and symbolic value behind each artwork. This aspect of the art is considered to be a contemporary turn that northwest coast native art has taken throughout the years.