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Archive for the ‘Morgan Green’ Category

Which upcoming First Nation artists in the Pacific Northwest are worth having a look at? Giving an answer is not easy, because traditional art forms and contemporary variations are thriving as never before.

Still, if I had to give answer, these are the seven artists I would tell people to look for. Many post their work on Facebook, or somewhere else on the Internet:

  •  Mitch Adams (Haida): Adams has made a specialty of miniatures – everything from masks to combs and usable pipes – and of exploring different kinds of woods – including ebony and laminated blocks in which the layers substitute for paint. However, his best work so far has been in carving sculptures about thirty to forty centimeters high.
  •  Morgan Green (Tsimshian): Many Northwest Coast artists show versatility, but few can match Green. Her work includes cloth and leather design, wood carving, ceramics, and, more recently, metal work. Although in the past she seemed more interested in experimenting with new media than in developing her art, for the past couple of years, she has focused on jewelry and metal sculpture.
  •  Latham Mack (Nuxalk): Mack first attracted attention at the Freda Diesing School for his design work. However, since graduating, Mack has continued to apprentice with Dempsey Bob, and his discipline and carving is starting to reach the same standards as his designs.
  •  Kelly Robinson (Nuxalk, Nuchunulth): Robinson began as a painter, but since branched out into jewelry and carving. His work in both of his traditions has a strong sense of individuality, but in Nuchunulth style, he has the distinction of being one of the first to treat his subject as high art, rather than historical re-creation.
  • Todd Stephens (Nisga’a): As a carver, Stephens still needs practice, but few artists of any experience can match him as a designer. Study the details of his paintings, such as the different ways that the join of two formlines is thinned out, and you will soon know most of what you should be looking for.
  •  John Wilson (Haisla): Primarily a carver, Wilson is known for the speed with which he can finish high-quality masks. More recently, he has landed commissions for corporate logos and artwork. He is rapidly becoming the best Haisla artist since Lyle Wilson, but, right now, his work is extremely reasonably priced.
  •  Carol Young (Haida): The first winner of the Freda Diesing School’s Mature Student Award, Young first emerged as an artist to watch during her second year at the school, when she started doing naturalistic, unpainted masks. Since then, she has gone from strength to strength with more traditional carvings, some painted, some not. Once or twice, she has introduced female themes into her work.

Other artists who are less successful (so far) but still worth searching out include:

  •  Sean Aster (Tsimshian): Aster is one of the strongest designers who has graduated from the Freda Diesing School. Unfortunately, he does not seem to have marketed his work as well as it deserves.
  • Cody McCoy(Salishan): McCoy has won two YVR art awards, but he is marketing his work in both First Nations galleries and in mainstream shows as surrealism. The best of his work is strikingly original, with traditional forms half-hidden in the thick, restless brush strokes.
  •  Colin K. Morrison (Tsimshian): Morrison is an outstanding carver. However, he only produces a few pieces a year, so the danger is that he might eventually choose another way to earn a living.
  •  Chazz Mack (Nuxalk): Well-known for his design work, Mack seems to do much of his work for family and friends, instead of making many attempts to develop his reputation.
  •  Nathan Wilson (Haisla): Wilson’s high-standards of craft are obvious, but his design sense is sometimes no more than adequate and could use more individuality. However, sooner or later, I expect consistently strong work from him.

Neither of these lists is anything like complete. There are always promising artists whose work does not appear in Vancouver or Victoria, or in galleries anywhere, so I am sure to have missed some. If so, my apologies – chances are, my ignorance explains any omissions, not any judgment of quality.

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In the fall of 2010, Tshimshian artist Morgan Green set out to raise the money for her tuition in goldsmithing. In return for my donation, she agreed to do a small wall-hanging. Near the end of April, 2011, she delivered “Raven and the Grouse” to me downtown, considerably brightening up an otherwise dismal evening for me.

The story is one of the lesser-known Tsimshian stories of Raven – or Txamsem, as he was known to the Tsimshian. In fact, Green had never heard the story, despite the fact that she probably has a stronger background in traditional culture than most First Nations artists in their mid to late twenties. My only source for it is the two-volume reprint of Tsimshian Narratives by Marius Barbeau, William Beynon, John J. Cove, and George F. Macdonald. There, it is listed as “Raven and the Grouse Prince,” and as being told to Beynon by Emma Wright of the village of Gitlaxdamks in 1954.

One of the things I like about the story (apart from the fact that is not the worn story of Raven stealing the light) is the glimpse of traditional life that it gives:

Txamsem was very hungry and could not catch any more salmon as these had all left with the salmon women. He left his little canoe and went into the forest to see if he could get any game. As he went into the woods he saw a large house ahead of him. He went to it and looking in saw that there was a man and his wife with many small children. He saw there was food in the house and he was very hungry.

Seeing three ravens in a tree he immediately called them, “One of you will pretend to be my wife and the other two will be our children.” He transformed these ravens to human form. They approached the house of the Prince of Grouse. When they were near the house, the Grouse Prince saw the man and woman with their two children approaching, so he called to them, “Come my friends, come and rest in my house.” Leading the way he led Txamsem and his raven wife and children to the rear of the house. “Bring food for my guests who are tired,” he called to his servants. Then he made a place for his guests to rest and sleep.

The Grouse Prince began to make a great many arrows which he piled by his sleeping place. He arose very early and was not gone for long when he returned with the carcasses of many mountain goat. Txamsem still pretended he was very tired and was resting all the time. He go up when the Grouse Prince went out with all his arrows and followed behind him.

After traveling some distance into the woods the prince came to a high steep bare rock mountain. It was impossible to climb this, so the prince took his arrows and shot three from his bow. When he had shot all his arrows, he called out, “Come great Supernatural One, come to the aid of the arrows you gave me.” Almost immediately a man appeared and waved his spear up at the mountain and at once a great many mountain goat came falling off the steep sides of the high cliff. These the prince took down to his house.

Txamsem had seen all this and had returned to the house. He asked the prince, “Do you go every day to hunt?” “No,” the prince replied, “tomorrow I shall rest and prepare all the meat I have got.” Txamsem said, “I will go tomorrow as I feel rested now.” He made a large number of arrows and next day he set off early to go to the cliff where he had followed the Grouse Prince.

When he got there, he shot off the arrows as he had seen the prince do and these went into the high precipice and then he called out, “Help my arrows O supernatural One.” As he said this a man stepped in front of him. “Whose arrows do you shoot?” Txamsem was at a loss and did not know the right answer. So he replied, “These are my arrows, Supernatural One.”

With that the walls of the precipice fell down and Txamsem became buried under them. His raven wife flew away as did the two raven children. Txamsem nearly died and was ill for a long while. He finally recovered and went down to where the grouse Prince’s house stood, but behold! It was gone. Then he went to where he had left his little canoe and being very hungry he set out traveling on down the river, in search of food.
(Note: I have changed the paragraphing for easier reading)

Green’s design is based on a picture of a historical house front. She has used that starting point to show Raven about to buried beneath the falling rock of the precipice. Inside Raven’s body, some of the goats are shown. The gray in the background, perhaps, might be taken as the silhouette of the Grouse Prince’s house in the distance.

What the photo cannot show is the care with which the applique has been sown on to the heavy background fabric. The stitches must number in the tens of thousands – reason enough for Green to take six months to complete the hanging, even if she wasn’t going to school and creating other pieces at the same time.

Green is a multi-talented artist, who restlessly explores different media, as the ceramic Mouse Woman platter shows that we bought a couple of years ago. But her first and most accomplished work, I’ve always felt, lies in fabric, which is one reason why I requested “Raven and the Grouse.”

I’ve hung the finished piece above my headboard, where it hides a wallpaper mural from the 1970s that one of these days has got to go. With the curtain drawn, the hanging has a somber impressiveness, with the buttons catching whatever lights I have on. During the day, with the indirect light from the window, the red outline of Raven becomes more noticeable, but the effect is no less impressive.

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(Morgan Green is currently trying to raise $5000 to pay the remainder of her tutition for goldsmithing. She is offering a number of pieces of her original art in return for donations. If you want to assist, please click this link)

http://www.indiegogo.com/project/widget/9083 )

Looking at the artistic career of twenty-six-year-old Morgan Green, the first thing that strikes most people is how varied it has been. But probably, that variety comes naturally. With an art teacher for a mother, and master carver Henry Green for a father, Green has been surrounded by a variety of art all her life.

However, for Green herself, the road to becoming an artist, “All started with clothing. “I’ve always loved making clothing since I was young. I used to handsew on the bus or wherever to pass time. I can still handsew and walk at the same time,” Green says, adding with a smile, “I can also read and walk, but it’s a bit of a dangerous occupation.”

In fact, Green’s first formal training after graduating from high school in Prince Rupert was fashion design. However, since then, she has also studied bronze casting, molding technique, clay sculpture and goldsmithing, as well as learning wood carving with her father and Salish carver Jordan Seward, and jewelry-making with Haida artist Richard Adkins.

With this background, Green is already making a living as an artist, although, like most artists, she has also had the usual array of odd jobs, ranging from commercial fishing to waitressing.

“The most important steps were just doing it,” Green says when asked about how she established her career. “I put myself out there, applied for grants, asked to apprentice, showed up, and applied for art jobs.”

However, Green also goes on to say that, “Formal training has helped me immensely to have cleaner, professional work. Usually, the teachers are an amazing resource.”

A tradition of her own

Of mixed Scottish and Tsimshian background, Green shows a similar diversity of influences.

In general, she says, “I admire artists who work hard.” However, asked to name artists she admires, the first one she mentions is Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha.

“The visual flow of his work is enchanting,” she says. “I find it rather poignant how he influenced the whole Art Nouveau movement like that, then died alone in exile. Very sad. I like that much of his art was poster art, popular culture. He has been an influence because I have studied his work a lot and use his work often as a drawing reference.”

The next influences she acknowledges are “Tsimshian historical artists. Most of their names aren’t known, but I am the most fascinated with their work. Their variations on Mouse Woman are my favorite, but everything about their formline is amazing – the shapes, the flow, the connections.”

Some writers on Northwest Coast art would see a split between the modern and the traditional in these influences, but Green doesn’t see tings that way. “I think that tradition and innovation are the same, or, I should say that Northwest Coast historical designs and sculpture were extremely innovative. I think that it is important to study tradition, because, without that study, innovation can seem hollow.”

Unlike some First Nations artists, Green sees nothing wrong with choosing subjects that are not part of her family’s crests. “Technically, if I stayed within my hereditary right, I would only be able to make eagle things,” she says, “But even in history artists were definitely different from the general population. To my knowledge, the hereditary right is more important for who’s wearing the item. Artists have always created art for many different people, as well as for performances, and even neighboring villages. So I think that we can be given some artistic license.”

Diversity upon diversity

Since Green makes her living as an artist, she describes herself as “somewhere in mid-stage of my career. I feel like my artwork is still maturing, but the quality is good, and I’m happy with where I’m at. I’m not really one for major production or commercialism (I like to make things one of a kind, and I believe in locally made), so I’m lucky that I have supporters who believe in me.

Right now, Green thinks that “My career is at another jumping off point.” Continuing to work in a variety of media, she says “I see it all as connected. The processes are all different, but have similarities. A lot of [working with a new medium] is learning how to work best with the properties of the material.

“I am, of course, in love with a very traditional style of Tsimshian art myself.”

Besides art, Green also hopes to do more teaching in the future. “Teaching has probably been my biggest revelation: first figuring out I had skills to share, and then trying to formulate my knowledge and ideas into a communicable lesson plan. I think that teaching Northwest Coast art fills my need for altruism. I think it helps people, and at the very least makes kids happy.”

In addition, Green is also concerned with violence against women, and was Jordan Steward’s assistant a few years ago on the pole to commemorate missing women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

As Green thinks ahead, she adds “I want to teach art and prevent violence against women and make our children stronger and able to practice cultural arts. And I want to do a fashion show, sometime soon.”

An armchair psychologist might be tempted to speculate that Green is trying to combine the interests of both her parents in her own life. However, those who know her might be more tempted to say that her ambitions are just Morgan being Morgan, looking ahead to more of the diversity that has already characterized her career.

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I have two great weakness when buying Northwest Coast art: I love to see artists trying out new media, and I love work that shows the lesser-known figures of mythology. With these preferences, it seems inevitable that I would have bought Morgan Green’s Mouse Woman platter.

Morgan Green is a twenty-five year old artist who seems to be in the middle of deciding what art she wants to do. She is represented in the galleries mostly by her painted leather cuffs, but she has also done fashion design, carved masks and poles, and assisted older artists with painting and metal casting. Add an art teacher and potter for a mother and master carver Henry Green for a father, and it is no wonder that she always seems to be galloping off in all directions (in fact, every time I’ve met or contacted her, she seems about to be preparing for a journey or just returned from one).

The Mouse Woman platter is one of several pieces of ceramics that Green is exhibiting at the Edzerza Gallery. Made from clay that Green recently brought back from Arizona, it is as untraditional as a Northwest Coast piece can be. Ceramics were not a part of the northern coast first nation cultures, and, unlike argillite a century ago or glass in recent decades, have never really caught on, although you can find occasional pieces – usually not very skilled and mostly for the tourist trade.

As for Mouse Woman herself, she remains a bit of a mystery. Few, if any renditions of her survive. But the stories make her a powerful, although minor character. She generally appears as a helper of a hero in a quest. In several tales, for instance, a hero helps a mouse over a log, and then, that evening, comes to a long-house where he is greeted by a noble woman who feasts him and gives him good advice. In other tales, she whispers practical advice about everyday concerns that the hero passes on to his people. In many ways, she is all that Raven is not: domestic where he is a wanderer, a maintainer and restorer of order where he is a bringer of chaos and change, and a representative of civilization where he is the eternal outsider. Where Raven is often a child, she is more often described as a grandmother, perhaps an elder.

Since no one is quite sure what Mouse Woman is supposed to look like, in depicting her, Green is free to let her imagination run wild. She chooses a simple design that goes well the rough, terra-cotta background – a combination that vaguely suggests petroglyphs, an art form that flourished several centuries before the northern formline became codified. Most of the lines are thin, except for those associated with what Green presumably intends as Mouse Woman’s distinguishing characteristics: her incisors, round eyes and ears. For these features, the lines are heavy, giving them added prominence, and elevating them to the equivalent of the orca’s fin or the eagle’s hooked beak – the features that tell you what creature is intended even if the complete shape is not depicted.

The result is a fragile but alert-looking creature, with ovoids that suggest cheeks stuffed with food. The result is a surprisingly naturalistic figure of a mouse, that, at the same time, also suggests a tiny but alert and active grandmother. How artists of a century and a half ago might have depicted Mouse Woman remains unknown, but I’m sure that they would recognize instantly the subject of Green’s depiction.

I don’t know whether Green will continue working with ceramics. Considering her restlessness, my guess is that she won’t for the time being, although she may return to them eventually. But I suspect that her recent YVR scholarship couldn’t have come at a better time. The Mouse Woman platter is a minor piece (in scope, I mean; at twenty-five centimeters it is definitely not so in size), but it suggests to me an artist who is starting to find the themes that interest her.

morgan-green-mouse-woman-plate

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Last night, I was at the reception for Tahltan artist Alano Edzerza’s new exhibit, “Gift of the Raven.” The show features Edzerza’s work of the last six months. Also on display were a number of pieces by Morgan Green, a recent recipient of the YVR Art Foundation Scholarship and (as she may be tired of hearing) the daughter of Tsimshian master carver Henry Green.

The evening started with a performance of “Raven Steals the Light” by Victor Reece’s Big Sky Multi-Media Storytelling Society. The performance was held in the courtyard of the Waterfall Building, the complex in which the Edzerza Gallery is located. It featured a dancer with suitably nervous bird-like movements and a light mask with mirrors for eyes, and ended with him climbing to an overhead walkway to conclude the performance – all in all, a successful blending of the traditional and the contemporary.

Then, the crowd squeezed inside the gallery for the viewing.

The show did not include any new traditional style work by Edzerza. Otherwise, it was a good representation of the different strains in his work. My main problem was dodging the crowd and finding gaps in it that lasted long enough to snap a picture. Combined with the fact that some paintings were hung high, the result is pictures that are less than professional quality (to say the least), but should give some idea of what was on display.

In one corner of the front of the gallery was a collection of Edzerza’s glass boxes:

alano-glass-boxes1

Elsewhere, you could see some of his experiments with color, such as this collection of closeups of traditional formline designs done in the electric colors of pop-art on a back wall:

alano-colors

The same pop-art sensibility appeared in a couple of contemporary paintings of frogs, which were inspired, I am told, by a tattoo on a woman’s back:

alano-frog3

But the major works in the exhibit were the multi-panel ones, like this one that was hung near the ceiling, facing the door:

alano-orca-multi

Another orca design, a triptych, was hung just inside the door, and a triptych featuring ravens on the back wall. The raven triptych was especially dramatic, as one of its panel shows:

alano-eagle-triptych2

All these multi-panel works shared features that are characteristic of Edzerza’s work: A three-dimensional contemporary take on traditional Northwest Coast designs, an experiment with color in mainly grayscale designs, and a dramatic sense of movement that is enhanced by the separate canvases and draws your eyes from one to the next.

Morgan Green is not as an experienced an artist as Edzerza, but, in the last year, her work has matured quickly. Previously, the work by Green that I knew best were her leather cuffs and a somewhat over-ornate wolf helmet in the gallery, but the works I saw last night shows some other sides to her work, and an interest in different media that, if anything, is even greater than Edzerza’s.

Green’s works included a wall hanging and a variety of earth-colored ceramics inspired by a recent trip to Arizona and the First Nations work she saw there. A plate depicting Mouse Woman was particularly striking:

morgan-green-mouse-woman-plate

So far as I know, no historical depictions of Mouse Woman survive. But Green’s rendering seems a reasonable one, with features like the ears, the round eyes and the incisors providing the defining features that you would expect in a traditional design. At the same time, placing the design on grainy ceramic creates a pictograph-like effect, all the more so because the formline is hinted at more than fully realized.

Perhaps the most accomplished work by Green on display was a Dogfish Woman robe she had created for an elder. The design was fairly standard (that is to say, more or less a descendant of Charles Edenshaw’s sketch via Bill Reid), but the cutting of the design and the assembly of the robe made for a first rate piece of work. As Green was discussing it with some of the guests, one of them agreed to model it:

morgan-green-dogfish-woman-robe

The evening was a fund-raiser, with a quarter of all sales going to the Vancouver Foundation. How successful the evening was a fund-raiser, I didn’t ask. But from the perspective of spotlighting two promising young artists, no one could have asked for more. I came away from the evening with increased respect for both, and an even greater determination to watch and enjoy their future growth.

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