The eagle has taken shape.
Stz’uminus artist John Marston is chiselling the finishing details on a giant cedar eagle, the latest addition to his evolving installation in the atrium of Ladysmith secondary.
Marston has been chipping away on the sculpture for the past two years in his studio at the Machine Shop.
“I’m just at the finishing stage of carving,” said Marston. “I guess I’ll be painting within a week or two.”
Interest and anticipation — along with community involvement — have been growing as the art project developed.
“I’ve been working with Ladysmith secondary school for about four years now,” said Marston, an internationally recognized Indigenous carver who has been involved in past collaborative projects. He created a Coast Salish harbour canoe for his alma mater, Chemainus secondary, and worked with Malahat First Nation youth on a totem pole erected on the TransCanada Trail in 2017. The Ladysmith secondary project is his current focus.
“This is the second part of a big project we’ve worked on in the school foyer. It’s part of a broader idea of bringing First Nations content into public schools and creating cultural awareness of our local Stzu’uminus First Nation.”
Installing Indigenous artwork in a school could be considered especially poignant given the history of reconciliation, rooted in a desire to heal wounds from the residential school experience.
“There was a lot of conversation around reconciliation,” he explained. “The Truth and Reconciliation Commission had made its report so that was in the minds of a lot of people in terms of what we were going to do for the school.”
While the history of First Nations students attending LSS has been relatively short, they hope the eagle and overall installation will bring positive energy to the school, he added.
From Marston’s perspective, the most important aspect of the work is that it’s based in the community and it’s been rewarding to see that aspect develop.
“We have a dedicated and really enthusiastic team of people involved in the project, which more than anything has made it a lot of fun.”
A 500-year-old western red cedar giant from Jordan River was donated by TimberWest, a big supporter. Seasoned for four years, the finished wood weighs about 680 kg. (1,500 lbs.) They hope Fortis will be able to assist with the equipment to move the big bird from studio to school once completed.
“Moving it around is the easy part,” he said. Manoeuvring it into an upright position may not be so easy, but that’s a job the school’s CUPE staff will take on.
Marston is reluctant to describe the carving in too much detail prior its public unveiling at a ceremony sometime in the next few months. The precise date will have to be shoehorned into a busy school calendar and can’t be confirmed at this point, he said.
In the meantime, the giant eagle is about to acquire its colours. With skills learned from his parents and the late Simon Charlie, Cowichan master carver, Marston has long flexed his creative wings, blending traditional and non-traditional characteristics. The eagle itself has evolved through the process, he noted.
“It’s been a challenge, for sure, from an artistic standpoint and the sculptural aspect,” he said, reflecting on the last two years.
Once the artwork is installed, discussions will begin about the next stage of the atrium installation.