A few weeks ago I went for a brunch at Quaaout Lodge. I had not been there for many years and was impressed with the beautiful setting. My eyes fell on fabulously carved doors and wall hangings. I was then told that all of these carvings were by a Sicamous artist, now living in Salmon Arm, Robert Whitehead.
It always amazes me how many things I don’t know after having lived here for 22 years.
I went to talk to Bob Whitehead in Enderby, where he is currently working on carvings for the new Splatsin Band restaurant.
Whitehead has been carving professionally for 20 years and it shows in his work. He is busy carving poles that are the support of the new lodge-style building. The huge centre post depicts the history of the Splatsin Nation focusing on nature. A bear fishing for a salmon, eagles flying high. Whitehead goes into accurate detail with his carvings. A spear used in the past for fishing was recreated in the carving. The layout of this work was done first on paper and then wrapped around the pole. From there the image was transferred. The longer I looked at the carvings the more I saw. The scales of the fish, the teeth of the bear. Whitehead not only creates these images by carving, but also by skilfully shading the carvings with stain, carefully applied in different shades and intensities.
Aside from the main pole in the centre, there are three more posts that are depictions of animals found in and around our area.
A lot of the work Whitehead does is on wooden doors and his work is shipped to many different places. Two carved poles were prominently displayed at the Torino, Italy Olympic Games where they flanked the table where the Canadian press conferences were held. His work can also be seen in Heritage Park in Calgary.
I asked Whitehead what it feels like to be an artist as a job. He is very comfortable with it and can just go to work at nine in the morning, and the inspiration seems to be always there. Almost all of the work he does is on commission and because he does not ask for outrageous prices he is busy constantly. That way he can make a living rather than pricing himself out of the market. According to Whitehead, the art of carving is relatively new to Canadians, other than First Nations. In the U.S., the attitude is more mature and more appreciative of the carver as an artist.
Whitehead learned how to carve and how to work with stain all by trial and error, and he hopes that he will be able to teach wood carving at some time in the future in Salmon Arm.
By teaching others all he has learned over last 20 years, would-be carvers can benefit greatly from this knowledge.
If you would like to see some of Whitehead’s work, you can find it on his webpage at www.whiteheadcarvings.com.