An editor, journalist, and freelance writer, Pirjo Raits wrote Out of the Woods: Woodworkers along the Salish Sea (Heritage 2018) that profiles 26 wood artists. The book covers people such as Phoebe Dunbar who sources her material from logging waste to create one-of-a-kind bowls and vessels; and Charles Elliott of the Tsartlip First Nation, a world renowned carver. Dale Roth and Michele Ramberg provided the photography.

Out of the Woods: Woodworkers along the Salish Sea
by Pirjo Raits (Heritage House $34.95)

Review by Grahame Ware

A istory of Salish Sea carvers and woodworkers is long overdue. Out of the Woods: Woodworkers along the Salish Sea by retired newspaper editor Pirjo Raits is a treat to the eyes and hearts of West Coasters. With photography by Dale Roth and Michele Ramberg, it surveys 26 craftsman and artists whose “truth to material” is wood derived from the bio-region skirting the Salish Sea.

A deep spiritual empathy for the forest and the sea binds the sculptors and carvers of the Salish Sea (once called the Strait of Georgia and neighbouring Juan De Fuca Strait). They tap into wood’s timeless and ancestral quality, which surely is a primary source of human artistic expression. One has to look only to the oldest piece of recorded sculpture or idol in the world, made over 11,000 years ago—the Shigor idol from Siberia, a seventeen-foot log of Siberian larch.

There are two lines of origin for West Coast wood sculpture. The first line is that of Mungo Martin (1879-1962) and Indigenous people. Martin was old enough to have been spared the de-programming of Kwakiutl beliefs and shamanistic practices by the Potlatch Law and residential schools. As a chief, he taught the craft of carving totems at Thunderbird Park in Victoria.

Mungo Martin taught and influenced many, including Godfrey Stephens, Bill Holm (the Seattle art historian who married his daughter), Bill Reid, and Tony Hunt. Martin’s belief in seeing native objects as art was buttressed through the empathy and intellectual understanding of UBC anthropologists, Harry and Audrey Hawthorn, who provided tremendous support.

The second line of influence can be traced back to Jan Zach (1914-1986), a Czech artist and teacher who moved from Brazil via New York City to Victoria with his B.C.-born wife, Judith, in 1951.

Zach advocated and proselytized for the use of driftwood not only as a “truth to materials” element, but one that was distinct to the larger Pacific Northwest region—ultimately leading to a fascinating mix of “hippie virtuosos” whose works are also well represented in this book.

Sculptor Godfrey Stephens, featured on the cover of Out of the Woods, has been at it for over forty years and is rightfully the elder statesman of this book. Stephens was previously the subject of Gurdeep Stephens’ Wood Storms/ Wild Canvas: The Art of Godfrey Stephens (D&I Enterprises, 2014). 9781772032604

Grahame Ware reviews and carves from Gabriola Island.



Out of the Woods: Woodworkers along the Salish Sea
(Heritage 2018) $34.95 978-1-77203-260-4

[BCBW 2018]