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.

"Until Susan Point put up those house posts in Stanley Park, well, a lot of people didn't even realize that there were local First Nations," he said. "...I'm happy that visitors come and get to see (our art), but I'm more happy that locals have something representing local history."

For the Paralympic Games, Nelson Moody has taken on another project at the SLCC, working with Delmar Williams, an apprentice carver and member of the Squamish and Lil'wat Nations, to carve four massive cedar panels - traditional house planks. When finished, the planks will be mounted to the upright posts in the longhouse behind the cultural centre. It took eight days to finish the first panel, which features one of B.C.'s most well-known icons: the bear. Late last week, Nelson Moody had just begun chipping away at the second massive cedar panel. They will complete the last two during the Paralympic Games, working in the SLCC's Great Hall.

Working in front of curious passersby is not in most artists' nature. Nelson Moody, like many other artists, is an introvert. He admits that he has to prepare himself to engage with the public, fielding a raft of questions that range from thoughtful and intelligent to the sometimes ignorant and offensive.

"I have to put myself in that mood and tell myself at the beginning of the day that I'm not going to be offended by some of the questions that come out... but there are a lot of people who have never had a chance to interact with First Nations people and they're just dying to ask these 10 questions," he laughed.

But this shyness is superceded by Nelson Moody's desire to share local history and lore, in hopes of creating a sense of respect and understanding, helping the misinformed move past the stereotypes of tee-pees and totem poles and gain a better understanding of local First Nations' culture and history.

"We use the term First Nations just to let people know that we're a nation, like Canada, and we used to have control of our membership, and we used to adopt all sorts of people from different places. And historically we were, as far as I understand, wholly unconcerned with what colour people were or what their religion was; we were more interested with who they were as human beings."

Nelson Moody likens the SLCC to a modern-day "pot-latch village," where foreign cultures are welcomed with open arms.

"Historically, we would build a village for our big gathering, so between 5,000 and 10,000 people would come for a big one," he explained.

"...We always made one village for hosting people, and... traditionally, the diversity of people, the variety of languages and cultures, were not just welcome, but emphasized. It was really important to have people involved in our ceremonies from other places."




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