Kwagiutl Ancestor Tattoo Totem, 2014
18” x 36” x 1.5”
From a Kwagiutl House Post from Quatsino Sound, BC. UBC MOA
Carved by Quatsino artist Siwis (George Nelson around 1906.
After completing the Noble Eagle painting, I wanted to try a different size of canvas and return to more exploration with colour. And with my comfort zone of the MOA UBC collection, the one totem that had always intrigued me, in being so different from the others, was the Kwagiutl House Post from Quatsino Sound BC. But as with the other indoor totems at the museum, it is very difficult to get a picture of the full impact of the colours. All my images had the usual dull cast from the artificial lighting and windows. I had cropped one of my images to feature the left side of the face, which would fit a 18”x36” canvas. But having seen the totem numerous times, I scoured the online pages to see if anyone had succeeded in getting a photograph catching the actual colours. I did find such a photograph but it was the right side of the face. But it gave me the reference I needed to apply to the image I had selected. It gave me the security of not having to second-guess what the totem ‘may’ look like.
Getting the design motifs right was essential. The tattoo forms were very specific. I went with a completely different approach for the base colour on this painting. I went with yellow and black bases. The yellow could keep the brightness and warmth of the cedar tones.
This was a challenging painting to do, with lots a new things to work out. The areas that took the most time were the eye and the mouth. I would gradually develop these but then leave them sit while I worked on other areas of the tattoos and the forehead. These would inform what was needed around the eye and the mouth. It was a back and forth process, taking each grouping forward a step at a time. Each would guide and assure that the overall painting was balanced.
I liked how the cedar on the forehead was coming along, but the shading around the eye and the mouth took more time. The yellow couldn’t be too electric, with its subtle aged tones of natural pigment, and I needed to bring out the carved surfaces. The fine carving around the mouth took a few attempts; adding more glazes and then bringing out the lines again, until the right shading and highlights worked.
The finishing details included the small bits of chipped and worn paint on the cheek and mouth.
Note: The chin was once covered with a piece of copper plate but has been lost over time. That is why the chin is so different from the rest of the face, and attributed to how water reacts with wood once it gets behind a metal plating.
Once completing this painting, I took the time to study how quickly the evolution of the series was going. This being the 9th of the series, the leaps forward from one painting to the next was significant. It was daunting as well, as it posed the question of whether I could keep that development going, or whether I had gone as far as I could. But with the unknowns around the corner, this journeyer decided that, having come this far in my discoveries, that I had to continue so long as I had totems cueing up in my mind and who’s images reached out to me.
A reading about this totem from www.donsmaps.com/pacificnorthwest.html :
Human Figure House Post with Slaves PDF