As we creep toward the end of another year, it’s only natural to reflect on how far we’ve come. And for the Sundog Retreat Carving Program, it’s been a momentous stretch.

From select artists travelling to Ottawa’s annual Winterlude festivities, to Calvin Morberg’s trip to Russia, Sundog students’ artwork has reached a wider, international audience.

Furthermore, artist Justin Smith’s work is emblazoned on the cover of the NorthwesTel phone directory, while Angel Hall’s wood carving with porcupine quills was chosen for the Yukon Permanent Art Collection.

And during the early winter months of 2008, some carvers traded their usual wood medium for snow.

To close out the eventful year, a collection of the Sundog carvers’ works are now on display at Arts Underground in a show titled, Traditional Transitions.

A substantial crowd filled the basement gallery space on its opening night, leaving little shoulder room to spare. Sundog manager Heather Finton beamed, telling visitors the program has “taken on a life of its own” since its inception in 2004.

Traditional Transitions is the fifth Arts Underground show of work from the carving program. Over 40 students have enrolled into the artistic study over the years and, judging by the work in this exhibition, all appear to have their own specific treatments, while staying true to the traditions of the style.

Beginner carver Joseph Tisiga retains his penchant for juxtaposing popular modernist and indigenous culture in his mask, Cut Me Some Slack Jack. The basswood carving is meticulously decorated with strong swipes of black acrylic paint, with feathers protruding from the crown of the character and a faux wooden cigarette perched at the lips.

Sara Villeseche, another beginner carver, displays her Raven piece on a solid white pedestal in the gallery. Her clean lines and attention to detail are well married with a textured head of cedar bark to bring the creature carving to life.

“I believe that art is a form of expression and it allows people to be able to grow and develop skills and be able to excel in something they are interested in,” Ta’an Kwachan council deputy chief Gail Anderson said to the packed house.

“Right now, First Nations art is in demand and it’s good to see the number of people that are getting involved.”

For this exhibition alone, Finton says about 17 artists’ work is on display. It’s a show of both beginners and advanced students, revealing a range of panel pieces adorned with bright accents of blue, green, red or black.

Small details are evident in the intricate masks and further communicated through delicate combs by Hall, Terrance Clark and William Callaghan, which are presented in a display case.

The Sundog carving program is rooted in helping its students build artistic, business and social skills. And Finton says the support of the federal, territorial and First Nation governments have made that possible.

“The way that the First Nations are working together, cooperating to help support all of these artists, is really a very important thing that’s happening in our place in history,” she said to the crowd.

Morberg’s large-scale Frog Panel features fluid lines and an impeccable sense of symmetry. Careful accents are detailed in brilliant green acrylic paint on the basswood, creating depth between its smooth and textured portions.

This work, along with each item in the exhibit, shows how skilled these carvers have become through the program. And one can only imagine where their potent proficiency will lead them from here.

Traditional Transitions will be on display at Arts Underground until Dec. 23. And there will be a Christmas Open House at Sundog Carving Studio & Gallery on Dec. 5.