When I got a message on Facebook requesting that I join a conference called World Wood Day I have to admit I was skeptical at first. For one, I had been involved in a gathering ten years prior that was an international gathering that despite having worked out in the end had very unpleasant aspects to it. That said, I was taught that when we are called upon to represent our nations we must do so. So bags packed not entirely sure what I was in for I threw together my tool case that's served me well all over so far.
I arrived in Los Angeles on Sunday the 19th of March looking for my connection shuttle to meet Bethany Knagin an Alutiiq artist also trying to figure out where we were going exactly and we struck up a conversation and jumped on board the next bus to our destination.
That next stop we met up with the organizers along with a group from Canada wearing their traditional feather head gear and carrying their Lacrosse sticks. Next we met a few South African sculptors and a recluse First Nations elder and it started to pick up interest, what was going to happen here exactly? We all got to our designated hotels and I met my roommate, Philbert Honanie, a Hopi Kachina artist. Fortunately, he'd been on one of these events a couple years prior in China and said he'd walk me thru it.
Monday we registered and received badges along with an outline of the weeks schedule. In this huge exhibition center in Long Beach's Convention Center there were stacks of wood slabs and sculptors ready for the taking. People asked for help moving them and in that point I ran into fellow Washingtonian Native and relation, John Smith as we were helping the South African team carry their chosen slab to their table. It turned out that he and I were assigned team NW (Northwest) along with his new apprentice Derek Grover (Skokomish). Much to our surprise we found we were left with one slab that nobody seemed to want and one that would be hard to fit our sculptural style so we had to wait for the next batch which didn't arrive until the end of the first day but it was promising and we socialized a bit while waiting looking at what each of us brought in terms of tools.
Tuesday, Team NW faced an uphill challenge in terms that we were working on Cherry wood 18" wide by 12' long and it's something not particularly cooperative with our traditional tools but we took it on with a plan. Me, jumping into my architectural scale mind started to graph the slab to scale and exploring concepts while other teams were already carving away. I thought out loud and John heard me say "you have 20 minutes" as though we were on Iron Chef in a challenge, laughing. Fortunately it wasn't a competition it was more a gathering to showcase and mingle and learn from one another. That day we decided to approach the work as a house post and talk to the fellow carvers about the differences in Washington Native sculpture vs that of Alaska because so many had assumed we were trying to carve a totem pole.
Wednesday with a plan in hand we started working and discovered just how challenging the cherry was vs red cedar and yellow cedar. We worked thru and made small talk but this day was great because we were seeing how we didn't let language barriers hold us back from communicating with other woodworkers. John went over to watch the South African's and showed them some sharpening techniques and myself talking with the Alaskans about formline followed by a visit to the Maori next to us working with Australian carvers. This was the day of really making friends and bonding.
Thursday the reality set in that the following day was going to be my last there and the team would have a day of carving without me so we had to make some decisions about how to get ahead of the curve. Although we had made great strides with the advantage that we all have familiarity with Coast Salish design we still had to work hard at making the big moves work for us. This required using power tools which not every carver is keen on and in my view exceptions must be made and given we had one day to work with something on this scale, not having worked as a team prior and needing to finish something in four days, I have no regrets.
Because the gathering had limitations for resources we really had to reach out to people who had tools like sanders or grinding discs etc. Groups needing to do this were brought outside to minimize dust to the others inside and fortunately it was a sunny beautiful clear day and we made the strides we needed to.
Friday, my final full day of carving we managed to finish out the carving enough for me to hand over the finishing details to John and Derek. We brought our work outside for the interviewers and cameramen to ask questions and have us share a family song from Skokomish and Puyallup. It was a great way to wrap up my trip there and I was sad to leave so soon.
Having to get up at 4AM to catch my early flight wasn't easy but I made it safe and sound. I reflected on the week of experience noting how important it is to share culture and most importantly be able to receive teaching from others to grow as human beings. I loved the fact that every day on the stage a new group would perform music from their nation but most of all I loved the Mongolians, that and dancing with the Moroccans. I look forward to the opportunity to participate again and with some experience under my belt even more so.