Haida Carver: Ancient Stories and Connecting with Ancestors

Jaalen Edenshaw is a Haida carver whose work can be seen all over Canada. A member of the Ts’aahl – Eagle Clan of the Haida Nation, Jaalen grew up surrounded by Haida art and began his training at a young age working with renowned carvers like his father, Guujaaw and James Hart. Inspired by the Old Haida Stories and the work of the Old Masters before him, Jaalen looks to the past as a guide that influences his contemporary work.

Haida art can be described as a dance between flow and form where everything comes out of the shape before it. Throughout the process of carving—searching for stories, picking a tree, the roughing out, and watching a character come alive at the end of a piece—is quite satisfying for Jaalen. But more than that, much of the process is about storytelling and delving into the old stories, speaking to elders and learning as much as he can about what he conveys in the piece.

The evidence of his ancestors work is all over the land and is found throughout the lush forests that span Haida Gwaii, an archipelago off the West Coast of British Columbia. Filled with trees that have been growing for thousands of years and cultural roots that pre-date the last Ice Age, it’s no wonder that when Jaalen drops down into the forest he can find the remnants of his ancestors. From pulled bark that was used for weaving, to old chop marks and trees that were used to make canoes, walking through the forest with Jaalen is like walking through a natural museum.

Jaalen always knew he’d be a carver, feels lucky to be making a living doing it, and continues to pass the knowledge and artistry down to the next generation and his own children.

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