Child/Cub With Human Mother, 2014
18” x 36” x 1.5”
Detail from Haida Mortuary Pole.
Carved by Bill Reid & Doug Cranmer.
As I was completing the painting of The Sentinels, I already had another totem subject beckoning. This time, it was the Child/Cub with Human Mother from the Mortuary Pole at UBC MOA, carved by Bill Reid and Doug Cranmer. I loved the composition, the Child/Mother theme, the gentleness of the Child/Cub and the protective stance of the mother. I also wanted to maintain the raised left hand, closed in a fist. For me it spoke to the current Idle No More movement and the Authentic Aboriginal movement, both of which I heartily support.
I had a number of photographs that I had taken during my visits to the MOA, but there was one picture where the sunlight highlighted the right side and cast wonderful shadows.
The challenges with this totem would be all the assorted wood tones and patinas reacting with the light, both the actual sunlight and the light from the clear blue sky. Thinking back to the Brown Bear painting, where I began experimenting with the wood graining, I thought it was a good time to move forward. I started with a taupe base and gradually built in the main contours and darkest shadows. With all the light on the totem, the blues from the sky and the warm sun on the right, the painting was naturally guided to a softer overall look. The details and cracking in this totem section were subtler. This actually made it more challenging in getting the technique just right. For example, the Child’s left arm (and folded legs) are smoothly carved and the contour of the forearm could only work if the roundness was properly developed through the successive glazes and getting the cracks right. A crack can only work if it is gradually built up through its inside edges either catching the light or being in shadow. In the left folded leg, the detail photos shows all the various warm and cool wood tones, all gradually built up in thin layers and with little paint.
A tiny detail, which everyone commented on during the exhibitions, was the very small piece of blue sky by the mother’s cheek. It seems insignificant but it was just enough to support all the bright light on the totem and the blue cast from the sky. This is a classic example of less being more. The painting didn’t need a lot of sky included. The totem said it all.