An Artist's Journey - Carin Bacher

To the untrained eye, art can appear easy. Indeed, for a non-artist, the skill of creating can often seem effortlessly magical; the artist puts brush to canvas and something wonderful is created quickly and with ease. The artists reading this will likely be smiling because the actual process of creating art is messy, often stressful, filled with self-doubt and far more error than the non-artist would ever imagine. Art is a journey; sometimes that journey takes place in the studio, sometimes a classroom, and sometimes the artist has to look even further outside themselves.

Studio Tour artist Carin Bacher (Studio #3 on the 2015 tour) embarked on an artistic journey that took her to the far west coast of Canada; Haida Gwaii, the former Queen Charlotte Islands, in British Columbia. In order to find her artistic voice, she had to go to the place where her chosen art form was practiced for thousands of years before colonial settlers came to North America, long before Canada was even a country. Carin shares her incredible journey with us in her own voice and with her photos of a remarkable trip...

In August this year I was unbelievably fortunate to travel to Haida Gwaii, the furthest archipelago north off the BC coast before one reaches Alaska.

For centuries home to the Haida Nation, formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, Haida Gwaii was renamed by the BC government in 2010 to reflect its history and rich cultural heritage.

Accessible only by air or water Haida Gwaii is a journey which takes one back in time while celebrating rediscovery of its traditions and a positive path into the future.

An integral part of my journey was a two day Zodiac trip to Gwaii Haanas, the southern portion of the archipelago. Now a national park, Gwaii Haanas is co-managed by the Haida Nation and Parks Canada. The photos which follow are but a small glimpse of a most incredible experience.

Gwaii Haanas remains virtually untouched since its villages were abandoned in the 1880’s due to smallpox epidemics which decimated almost the entire Haida Nation. In a culture that relies on the telling, rather than the writing of its history, not many were left to carry forward the past, the beliefs, the traditions.

 It is a testament to the strength of spirit which is Haida that their culture and beliefs persevered through decades of those darkest hours. Today the Raven and the Eagle soar again, to teach us, to allow us to learn from the past, to carry us into the future.

The poles are left to stand so long as they naturally will, among them frontal, memorial, potlatch and mortuary. As they are meant to return to the earth they do.

Atradition of the historic Haida village is the three Watchmen, to guard the sky, the earth, the ocean. Today, the old village sites have Watchmen in residence from May to September not only to guard the villages but to educate visitors on the rich history which resides within the village.

Seen as an untapped economic bonanza by the lumber industry, the beauty of old growth rain forest resulted in decades of indiscriminate logging practices at odds with the Haida Nation. 

The much publicized 1985 stand-off at Lyell Island brought positive change to the logging of Gwaii Haanas. 

The much publicized 1985 stand-off at Lyell Island brought positive change to the logging of Gwaii Haanas. 

The Five Good Men carved into the Legacy pole at Hlly’yah Llangaay (Windy Bay) serves as a tribute to this historic event.

What amazing things we see enroute to the 2000 sq. ft. floating lodge for the night. Lion’s mane & fried egg jellies, sculpins, water anemones are just a few of the ocean inhabitants we see beneath the clear waters.

Once settled in we wait for the cover of darkness which will enable us to stir the ocean waters into a phosphorescent frenzy (sorry, no pics), an incredible natural phenomena.

Touching the shores of Hlly’yah Llnagaay“Windy Bay” I felt an immediate connection, I have no idea why. Completely inexplicable, it was as if I had been there before, this feeling continues to stay with me. In speaking with Donna, one of the Hlly’yah Lllnagay Watchmen, I shared the feeling. She said I had come back to where I had previously been and we shared a hug. How amazing are life’s mysteries?

On August 15, 2013 The Legacy Pole was raised here, the first pole raised in Gwaii Haanas in over 130 years. Carved to honor 20 years of the co-management agreement of Gwaii Haanas, one of the pole’s features is the Five Good Men, a tribute to the Lyell Island protests. Can you find the Five Good Men?

T’aanuu Llnagaay “Tanu” was home to both Raven and Eagle clans, the many longhouse remnants speak of a large village. Traditionally longhouses were always named, providing a glimpse of past inhabitants, House with Door Always Open being one of my personal favourites.

The size of a longhouse was indicative of the wealth of the family residing within. Longhouses were dug down into the ground, with four tiered sides cut in and a firepit in the middle, construction was either 2 or 6 pole (roof) with four supporting corner posts. As it was believed that evil spirits lived below the ground, it was imperative that the longhouse dig be completed in one day. Hence, the greater the wealth of the person building the longhouse the more help they could engage for their dig and the larger their longhouse.

 Traditionally the immediate family resided on the rear tiers with a back door for escape in the event of invasion, the relatives occupied the sides and the slaves (most often captives from raids on other villages) lived at the front.

Haida villages were always situated with an island in front of their beach, this provided shelter for their canoes as well as added protection and an early warning system of invasion.

Returning from Gwaii Haanas on the Zodiac, wind in my face, was an opportunity to reflect on the two days I had been blessed to spend in Gwaii Haanas. I owe such a debt of gratitude to the Haida people, their warmth and willingness to share their stories of the past, their dreams of the future, their embracing of the present. It is a truly humbling experience to share the majesty of this wilderness with those who have been its caretakers for thousands of years. “Haawa”.

Amazingly, during my trip to the rest of Haida Gwaii I met two wonderful people, Dianne and Knut, at North Beach close to Tow Hill. Sitting with a roaring bonfire at our backs, looking at a ship in the distance on the night ocean, sipping wine and chatting, Dianne and I stayed long after others had left. We spoke of life and our good fortune in being where we were at that moment in time, we felt we had known each other a long time. Dianne’s people are from Tanu where her great grandfather was a chief, next year she and her husband Knut will journey there on their boat for two weeks. Safe Journey Dianne and Knut."

Wow! Thanks to Carin Bacher for her photos and sharing her trip with us. If you'd like to hear more about Carin's trip or carving totems, be sure to stop by Studio #3 on the tour. There, you can also see paintings by Bill Brennan and Joan Humphrey.