Nathan Wilson is a fifth generation Haisla artist, who is inspired by his family history to continue to keep a long line of carving traditions alive. “There was a time when First Nations People couldn’t practice this art form and now we’re trying to catch up. I feel that is a huge driving factor in keeping me grounded to the arts but also trying to evolve with the arts at the same time.”
Nathan’s practice includes both painting and carving, where he creates masks, sculptures and relief carved panels for various galleries, as well as taking on private commissions with various collectors. His carvings are inspired by events and understanding the natural world. From encounters with grizzly and black bears, mountain goats and whales, to attending feasts and totem pole raising ceremonies, Nathan finds these are all important milestones in finding a deeper meaning to becoming a First Nations Artist.
Having worked closely with mentors like Stan Bevan, Ken McNeil and Dempsey Bob, Nathan is keen to pass along his skills, traditions and passion to the next generations. As an instructor, he teaches students at the Freda Diesing School, the very same place he first refined his art skills.
As well he and his partner Nakkita Trimble have introduced their young children to their craft, hoping to pass on their passion and traditions. “In this day and age, it gets more important than ever that we continuously pass along our knowledge. My two little girls, they’re always really interested in what I’m working on. It’s really rewarding when my three-year-old tells me that ‘it’s looking really beautiful Papa’. That’s where I want to pass my knowledge onto, to my little ones so they can be artists if they choose but they also have a good solid grounding in their culture and what their parents do.”
Community building and creating a sense of belonging are important to Nathan. He was recently commissioned by Mount Elizabeth Secondary School to carve an eight-foot totem pole, where students could observe, participate and carve onto the pole under Nathan’s supervision at the beginning stages. He has also joined the communities of Kitamaat Village and District of Kitimat to help raise the “Palaa-Gwa-La” pole in the main entrance of another school. This was the first totem pole to be raised for either community in several decades. “I’m giving my community the identity that we’ve always had and I’m just shining it for everybody to see.”
“I liken my journey as an artist to being in a canoe. The wake that I left behind has led me to where I am today. All the projects I’ve done, all the homework, all the study that has all brought me to receiving the BC Achievement Award, to being a teacher at the Freda Diesing School and to doing community work that I have been doing.” The journey for this Fulmer Award in First Nations Art recipient will continue for a long time and we look forward to his impact on First Nations culture, art and community.
To learn more about Nathan check out this film at bcachievement com
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