Nelson Moody carving out a niche 

Coast Salish carver showcases craft to the world, and Sea to Sky, during Olympic and Paralympic Games


Canada's First Nations people made it pretty clear at the Olympic opening ceremonies that they welcome other cultures onto their territory. And during the Paralympic Games, Squamish Nation carver Aaron Nelson Moody will continue to welcome people to his traditional territory, while teaching them about his people's history and culture.

The 43-year-old artist began training in the early '90s, apprenticing under the great Rick Harry (Xwa Lack Tun) as a second carver for almost 12 years. In that time, the teacher encouraged a young Nelson Moody to find his own distinct style. What he discovered, however, was actually a return to a traditional, graphic style of art, using those old simple, bold, clean forms from the Salish.

"Our stuff is considered a little simpler sometimes, but very, very graphic," Nelson Moody explained. "It's quite hard to do. I tend to think of it as a black and white photograph; it's maybe a bit more abstract, but also quite a bit more graphic."

Traditionally, carving provided a unique signature to possessions and created a sense of pride and ownership.

"In some ways, I don't really think of myself as an artist necessarily, I just think of making things," he said.

"Everything in the old days was decorative; every cup, every spoon, every bowl, even the fishing hooks were decorated."

While Nelson Moody used to worry that the craft would be lost, there has been a huge resurgence of Coast Salish arts in recent years, as evidenced at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre where they showcase an impressive collection of important weavings and carvings to the public. The centre also offers a range of arts and crafts programs.

Artists like Coast Salish carver Susan Point have also brought the ancient craft into galleries and the mainstream eye, creating a heightened awareness of the styles. Nelson Moody has been involved in some very high-profile projects, including carving the entrance doors for Canada House at the 2006 Olympics in Torino.

"They kind of felt like our first real kick at the can with our Olympics here, for me, anyways," he explained.

"For me, it was surreal to have my work in such a big public venue."

But the 2010 Games hold a much deeper meaning: they're being held on traditional territory and at home.

Nelson Moody created concrete spindle whorl sculptures for Hillcrest, the Olympic curling venue in Vancouver, a carving for the Nordic day lodge in the Callaghan Valley and another carving for the entrance way at Britannia Community Centre.

While sharing the traditional artwork of the Coast Salish people with Olympic audience has been a satisfying experience, Nelson Moody is more excited about sharing his culture with the non-Native people who live in the region.

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