A GREAT BOX: A Master’s voice resonates in a re-creation

Five years of effort came to fruition Saturday, March 7 with the presentation of Gwaai and Jaalen Edenshaw’s replica of a Haida artistic masterpiece known as “The Great Box”.

With the aim of learning as much as possible about the original artist’s style and his use of formline, the two carvers worked together to copy the 150+ year-old cedar-wood bent box as closely as possible. The original artist had a unique understanding of formline said Gwaai Edenshaw, and when using it to fill the available design space did it in a subtle and unique way. That distinctive style, which breaks from the norm, will be the main indicator as the brothers search for other works by the artist, he explained.

Though there were many surprising “finds” when studying the box, of particular interest was the difficulty the duo encountered when painting their box. Matching the blue-colour to that of the original design was a difficult task, said Jaalen Edenshaw – colour matching is a challenge at the best of times with changing light conditions and each artist’s perception of colour. But after much trial and error, they ended up going to the original source, using ore found in a small deposit on the north coast of Haida Gwaii.

The ore was ground to a fine powder, mixed with an acrylic binder, and then applied with a brush. The resulting blue pigment sits on and soaks into the cedar as the grain changes across the box and pulls the red oxide and soot-black paint of the design into a harmonious whole, clearly defining the complex figures. As the angle of light illuminating the box changes throughout the day, so does the hue of the colour. Thus, as the day passes, the colour can appear to change from dark green to aqua to bright blue.

Both the replica and original box measure 63.5 x 109.2 x 64.75 centimetres. The boxes are carved and painted front and back, with painted-only figures on the ends.

The original box is housed in the Pitt Rivers Museum in England. The replica will be on display at the Haida Gwaii Museum over the next month and placed in the Haida Gwaii Museum’s collection after a short visit to Vancouver.

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