It all started with a vision.
Sundog Carving teacher and Tlingit Master Carver Wayne Price stepped through the doorway of Sundog one afternoon in the spring of 2009 and announced what he had envisioned: he saw a dugout canoe, hand-carved through the talents of the Sundog students, and a living tribute to their ancestry.
The dugout canoe would be created out of mighty Pacific red cedar, and would join together the new and old traditions of carving.
It would be a masterpiece.
Slowly, surely, Price’s vision came true. Nineteen Sundog carving students and community members joined together on a remote, isolated island on the Yukon River to sequester themselves in the spirits of creation.
From June 10 to August 19, 2009, the carvers worked hard on the dugout, carving in record time. The only part that took a long time was the “patching” of the canoe, due to the discovery of large sections of rot.
Elecia McLellan, of Sundog Carving, relates: “Elders from the community were invited, the whole carving event was open to the public.
“The carvers performed a sacred fire that burned for four days when the canoe was being steamed, opening up the log and allowing it to float on water,” she says.
The building of a community was an important aspect of the dugout carving. While the immediate goal of the project was to build a mighty canoe, the other objectives were to recognize the cultural strength of their ancestors and to acknowledge the artistry of the traditional carving methods.
The canoe left the island, a spiritual piece paddled by nine carvers with one drummer. They paddled their masterpiece, proving it water-worthy before it went on dry land and on display.
The demands of the project were strenuous, and the carvers lived in relative isolation. They emerged with a product to be proud of and a stronger connection to their fellow carvers and their heritage.
Although McLellan wasn’t in attendance, the 10-week carving event remains strong in the memory of the staff and Sundog carvers. “It’s hard to get everyone organized for smaller carving events, and this one project was just incredible,” says McLellan.
When the show first opened at the Yukon Arts Centre, there was jubilation at the collaboration and cooperation between 19 artists and one Master Carver and echoes of partnership were shouted joyfully.
Whitehorse residents have precious few weeks left to view the mighty dugout canoe, impressive and majestic, measuring at 30 feet long and carved from a 13,000-pound log.
The display, Awakening Spirits, at Yukon Arts Centre, wraps up Aug. 28.
The dugout canoe will eventually move to its final home, the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre, currently in construction next to the Yukon River, downtown.
Sundog Carving is still keeping busy, holding a series of cultural resilience projects that range from regalia-making to drum creation.
To learn about the carving process, and witness the strength and teamwork of the Sundog Carvers, visit their blog: www.yukoncanoeproject2009.com.