Ladysmith carver inspired by his ancestors

Sherry Bezanson's Community Art Showcase column profiles Coast Salish carver John Marston.

John Marston is a local carver with an international presence in the art world.

His impressive and inspiring showcase of quality projects and installations is breathtaking. He’s a Coast Salish carver from Stz’uminus First Nation, and his most recent contribution of art can be seen on the cast aluminum door handles for the new Ladysmith Maritime Society Marine Reception Centre. The handles represent a welcoming and hold the powerful meaning of community that Stz’uminus people are extending to Ladysmith.

Marston’s designs are traditional Coast Salish with a freshness and sharpness that is palpable. His use of subtle colours evokes the sense of island mists and the gravel runs of West Coast sockeye; on others, the use of the brightest reds are the shade of the roe of the fish itself. Marston explains that in the traditional Coast Salish art tradition, the form is always defined and interpreted by the artist, creating individualism in one’s work.

Marston’s parents were both carvers, and he started carving at age eight. As a young man, he also worked with carver Simon Charlie from Cowichan. He describes his youth as immersed in the carving tradition of his family and relations, often creating past works from museum articles and items from private collections. Marston has travelled to many parts of the world working with other cultures, sharing and learning carving skills.

From 2000 to 2005, he worked full-time at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria at the Mungo Martin carving shed. He volunteered there and gave talks on Coast Salish art and culture. In addition, he was a resident carver for several years, where he was exposed to many talented carvers to learn from and aspire toward.

Marston’s extensive work is staggering in its quantity and quality. He has been acknowledged as he’s moved forward with many awards, the latest being the BC Creative Achievement Award for Arts in 2009.

Marston has a rich appreciation of his life work and the opportunities that have unfolded. He expresses that he feels privileged to have had many experiences that resulted in the exchange of ideas between cultures.

Several of Marston’s shows on Vancouver Island and in the Lower Mainland reflect the calibre of his current work. He has a freestanding, double-sided carving panel at the Museum of Anthropology at UBC. Marston describes it as a work in yellow cedar, black walnut, ebony, sepic rose and with cedar bark and root throughout.  He also has one at the Vancouver International Airport in the domestic departure area that consists of nine traditional carved paddles suspended from the ceiling.

Hearing Marston speak of his work, it is obvious that meaning is a very important, if not the most important, piece of the art. Marston has an installment at the Nanaimo Airport called White Light that “represents a prayer for our people and all people who come through our territory and for those travelling abroad. White Light represents healing.” And the healing invitation is offered out through Marston’s work.

As individuals and community members, it is our responsibility to ensure that we accept that invitation.