Stepping into Noel Brown’s carving shed, one takes in the pleasing visual West Coast landscape of the artist and his world: metals, tools, wood and machinery.
Thrown on the bench rests a well-worn Cowichan knitted vest that his mother made for him, and on the walls, amongst tools and random commercial fishing longline gear, are posters of local artists and painted drum skins. By the door, a Dickinson marine heater from a fish boat keeps the space warm on winter days.
In this inspired place, brilliant West Coast native art is made.
Brown is a member of the Coast Salish and Kwagulth people.
Grandfathers on both sides of his family were appreciated as good carvers. He notes that his family has a strong artistic background.
Brown began his work by copying art at home that was done by family members — grandparents and uncles, primarily the male lineage in his family. He is quick to note that his dad was really the only one who wasn’t a carver; he was a salmon fisherman.
When Brown was young, he was sure he didn’t have the skill to be an artist. But then in art classes in Grade 12 at Nanaimo District Senior Secondary, he chose a project doing traditional Salish art.
This decision would be one that would change his life focus.
Brown’s greatest influence was his uncle, Chris Lewis, with whom he had an encouraging and positive mentor relationship. Brown worked with him for one year, and he said his uncle would teach him in a manner that didn’t feel like teaching.
He also trained with artists Richard and Matthew Baker in Capilano in Vancouver.
Brown started with drawing the Salish and West Coast designs, then progressed to wood carving in 1995. He said he started with plaques because they are flat and easier to make when one is learning carving. He would learn by repeating the same design over and over.
Once the tools felt more at home in his hands, Brown began carving 3-D shapes such as masks, bowls and totem poles. He said it was a struggle for the first few years, before his work began to be in demand.
Brown has created more than 1,000 carvings in his career.
He began carving in silver and gold in 1999, but carving in wood remains his first choice. His uncles and mentors helped him succeed by sharing their wisdom of the marketing side of the business.
In the first year of the Yellow Point Artists tour, Brown had more than 4,000 visitors.
Brown said he gets lost in the cultural side of his work, and time can pass in reflective thought.
The colours of his painted works come from natural sources that are common on the West Coast. Red snapper, hummingbird, Sun, Moon, Eagle, Raven and Frog — to name a few — are represented in his work.
His pieces can be seen throughout Vancouver Island in public displays, including Comox, Ladysmith Secondary School, the Museum at Campbell River, The Nanaimo Port Authority and Newcastle Island, as well as in many private collections.