– Story by Hans Tammemagi Photography by Don Denton
A grand vision helps set Peninsula-based artist Archie Andrew aside from other gifted artists. Although he is prolific — having made hundreds of art pieces, including four totem poles — he’s recently set his goal higher. He is planning a canoe far bigger than any ever built before by the West Coast Indigenous people. It’s an ambitious project but Archie has the vision and skill to achieve it.
We’re sitting on the porch of the house where Archie, a painter and carver of the Tsartlip First Nation, is temporarily renting a flat. A large cedar eagle, looking noble with its wings slightly spread, dominates the table even though it is still unfinished. Archie shows me several other pieces, including a bear plaque painted in bold red and black, and a rattle in the shape of an eagle, all of which boast fine lines and imaginative designs.
Archie is a fit-looking 44-year-old with a dark moustache, goatee and black hair pulled into a ponytail. Although soft-spoken, his eyes reflect a confident determination. He grew up on the Tsartlip reserve near Brentwood Bay, embedded in Saanich’s Indigenous culture. Archie speaks the SENĆOŦEN language, although he quickly adds, “not very well.”
|Artist Archie Andrew holds a print made from one of his original paintings. Don Denton photography|
But he showed a talent and interest for art from an early age, and made drawings for his classmates. He sold his first piece at age 20.
His training followed the Native way: rather than taking a college course, he worked hands-on with talented mentors. He was guided by two respected carvers, Charles Elliott and Doug LaFortune, and trained with Floyd Joseph for six years, often carving entire days.
“Art is the backbone of my life, and it has kept me out of trouble,” he says.
I can see from the pieces on the table and from pictures he shows me on his cell phone that he has abundant creativity and skill.
Archie moved around the province for 17 years, teaching Native art in the BC school system. During this time, he continued pursuing carving and painting. He makes his own tools and knives, and has produced numerous works. His pieces were regularly displayed at the Turtle Island Gallery in Kelowna until it closed. His favourite piece is a large, killer-whale helmet, which is about two feet tall with the dorsal fin, and is worn on the head.
Most recently, he designed the logo for the World Rowing Coastal Championships held in Sidney in October. It is called “Spirit of the Killer Whale” and shows three stylized orcas with the Orca Spirit in the blow holes.
“Killer whales live in the waters next to the Saanich Peninsula and play a significant role in Tsartlip culture,” he says. “Orcas are powerful. They respect family, and work well together. Thus, they are good representatives for the rowing teams in their races.”
|Artist Archie Andrew wears a scarf with a design made from one of his original artworks. Don Denton photography|
At present, Archie’s future is unclear, bound in mist. To support his carving and painting, he has a part-time job here, but he misses his 18-month-old daughter, Mara, who lives in Bella Coola. And he adds, “It’s hard to get good cedar here.”
Although Archie is prolific, he presently has no studio or commercial outlets. He depends on word of mouth and private sales. His work can be seen on his FaceBook page, Westwind Carvings, and he is developing a website at westwindcarvingsaa.com.
Our conversation turns to his grand vision — a monumental canoe that is 100 feet long, has two 60-foot outriggers and can hold up to 100 paddlers. Loo Taas, the famous canoe built by Bill Reid, for example, is large at 50 feet, but still smaller than one of Archie’s envisioned outriggers.
“My great-great-grandmother inspired this vision,” Archie explains. “She came from Hawaii and must have travelled in a boat similar to this.”
Archie plans to construct scale models first, and has already found a site where he can build the full-size canoe. He announced his visionary canoe at the World Rowing Coastal Championships and hopes to attract fellow craftsmen and supporters.
Leaving, I sense Archie’s quiet determination and feel that with his lofty goal, he is an artist apart. I wish him the best in transforming his dream into reality … and silently hope that one day I can be a paddler in his giant canoe.
For more of writer Han Tammemagi’s work check out his website here.
|Artist Archie Andrew holds one of his artworks. Don Denton photography|