An Audain masterpiece 

Artist James Hart talks about his work The Dance Screen (ThE Scream Too)

click to enlarge PHOTO BY PASCALE GADBOIS/WWW.GADBOISPHOTOGRAPHY.CA - Carved wall Members of the public check out Dance Screen (The Scream Too) by Haida artist James Hart.
  • PHOTO by Pascale Gadbois/
  • Carved wall Members of the public check out Dance Screen (The Scream Too) by Haida artist James Hart.

Haida artist James Hart dropped by the Audain Art Museum to check out how his masterpiece is doing.

The Dance Screen (The Scream Too) was carved from red cedar between 2010 and 2013 and was purchased by the museum's founder, Michael Audain, to put in a gallery with the collection's traditional masks.

With the screen taking up the whole of one back wall, Hart likes what he sees.

"It's wonderful, the spacing. And to be with the old pieces, you can't beat that. It's a real honour," the 62-year-old says.

"We finished it a couple of Christmases ago and then we put it in storage, waiting for this place to be finished."

The screen has carved salmon swimming along the outside, with inlayed abalone from New Zealand and California. There is a bear mother in the centre.

Hart was visiting ahead of the Audain's opening on Saturday, March 12.

Hart said the massive 4.79 metre x 3.23 metre screen was "tricky" to complete.

"There was still a little bit of moisture in the wood and it had to have humidity control. But this wood is special. I got it from an old forest fire area on (Haida Gwaii) the islands," Hart says.

"They were big cedars when the fire came through. It burned the outside and killed them but they remained standing for 130 years and the wood is still good. You go out and scratch the surface, and it's good underneath.

"The fire had gone through and my grandfather remembered it. The old people said of it that they could see smoke for days."

Hart said that since the piece was going inside he wanted to use this drier wood, in an attempt to avoid cracking.

The screen is operational, Hart adds. A shaman figure carved into the front of the main panel can be unhooked and become part of the ceremony that follows.

Dancers will stand behind the screen, their songs and chants carried to those outside by holes carved into the panel.

"You pop the door in front open and the idea is that the dancers can come through to perform," Hart says.

"It hasn't been used yet, but we're planning to do it here sometime. I want to plan a performance with it."

It is the second of two pieces by Hart in the Audain. The other is an unnamed 2.4-metre totem pole.

He has a lot of appreciation for the interest that Michael Audain has taken in indigenous art. Originally, The Dance Screen was meant to be much smaller but Hart went back to Audain and asked if he could expand it.

"He really does respect artists. I tested him and he was true blue to B.C. artists. It was amazing; I'd heard about people like this and Michael is one of them," Hart says.

For a feature on the opening of the Audain Art Museum, go to page 32.

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