WATCH: It takes months of patience and delicate craftsmanship, and most of us have never seen a totem pole in the making. Well, that’s about to change. Two local contemporary Coast Salish artists will soon begin carving a seven-metre tall totem pole right in the middle of downtown Victoria. With more on the master carvers, and the stories behind their callouses on their hands, here’s Kori Sidaway.
With patience and steady hands, brothers Perry and Tom LaFortune are carrying on a Coast Salish tradition.
“I first experienced carving at 12, I fell in love with it and It’s all I’ve never wanted to do with my life. And here I am, 42 years later, still doing the same job,” said master carver Perry LaFortune.
This summer Perry and his brother Tom will be at work in front of the Royal BC Museum.
“We’re going to share with our visitors for the whole summer, possibly into September the process of carving a totem,” said the Royal BC Museum’s marketing head Erika Stenson.
For the LaFortune brothers, things are already underway.
“We just had the log delivered at six o’clock in the morning two weeks ago, so this log came from Campbell River,” said Perry.
The 25-foot cedar log was donated by Timber West.
“Right now it’s a dead piece of wood. We are going to bring it back to life with our own design,” said Tom.
That design will be contemporary Coast Salish, with traditional figures, and tying them all together – a rope.
“And this is our meaning of cross-culture, of sharing, of becoming one. Crossing cultures and breaking down barriers is more important to us than reconciliation,” said Perry.
Coast Salish totem carving was an art form that almost disappeared.
“It was such a lost medium with the Coast Salish for so long. It was just about taken out after contact,” said Tom.
But even with over four decades of work behind them, they’re still learning.
“My brother Perry has been carving for 42 I’ve been carving for 47 – I haven’t mastered a damn thing! I learn something new every time I carve something,” said Tom.
Over the years as the pair shaped the wood, they found their art shaped their lives in return.
“It’s part of who we are and how we are. I’m very grateful. It’s something that’s kept me out of trouble,” said Perry.
You can watch the LaFortune brothers carving their totem pole on the steps of the Royal BC Museum mid-July until September.