Saik’uz First Nation artists design Vanderhoof school sign supports

Two cedar poles carved by local First Nation artists will soon be the new supports of W. L. McLeod Elementary’s entry sign.

Grade 5 student Iris Vuohijoki chisels a design with the guidance of carver Jeremiah Prince.

Grade 5 student Iris Vuohijoki chisels a design with the guidance of carver Jeremiah Prince.

Two six-foot cedar poles designed and carved by local First Nation artists will soon be the new supports of W. L. McLeod Elementary’s entry sign.

From Nov. 1 to 4, the elementary school hosted carvers Michael Antoine and Jeremiah Prince from Saik’uz First Nation for their Collaborative Carving Project.

To signify their clans, also the two main clans of Saik’uz, Antoine and Prince are carving a grouse and a frog on their respective poles. So far, Antoine’s pole includes a bear paw, representing physical strength, and a feather.

“Feathers are held in high regard spiritually and gifted often as a sign of respect,” he said. “Frogs symbolize spirit helpers.”

In his career, Antoine has carved masks, paddles, and totems, and he was also involved in 30-foot tall projects.

Originally restricting his art to painting, Antoine first learned carving from Rob Sebastian of Gitxsan Nation in Hazelton. The journalist-artist’s work has appeared in world collections such as the British Royal Family’s.

For Prince, the six-foot cedar pole will be his largest project of his carving career so far.

“It’s quite an experience, and I’ve done masks,” he said. “But once you start carving, it’s the same aspects.”

Prince will also be adding the community-minded wolf to his pole, representing family bonds and community to reflect the pole’s addition to the elementary school.

As the sounds of chiselling, the smell of cedar, and wood chips filled the library and halls of McLeod, students saw the beginning of the crafting work; some also tried their hand at chiselling as well.

“Our school is going to be a sensory dream with the smell of cedar, the sound of chiselling and a unique experience that I’m sure we won’t soon forget,” stated principal Libby Hart. “Once the ground thaws in the spring the posts will be erected to hold our W. L. McLeod sign at the front of our school.

“We thank Melanie LaBatch so much for all her work to coordinate this project and to our PAC for being a partner to make it happen.”

Grade 5 student Iris Vuohijoki was one of the students that helped chisel part of the poles’ designs, with the guidance of Prince.

“It’s fun, “ Vuohijoki said. “I’ve carve with a knife at home before, but I haven’t done this.

“I think the design is cool.”

Work on the cedar poles are continuing at Saik’uz First Nation’s elder house, and all who are interested in learning about carving are invited to visit the artists as they complete the project.