A local Tlingit artist will be featured in a national art exhibition that takes an in-depth look people in small communities and their relationships with water.
Tlingit master carver Wayne Price has a cherished relationship with the ocean and the tides, that runs deeper than most. Price carves dugout canoes and he says the traditional art is dying.
“The dugout canoes have been a big part of that all through 10,000 years of history,” Price says. “We’re in a desperate time right trying to keep that art alive.”
Last week in Haines, the ocean was Price’s stage. He took one of his dugout canoes on the water as part of a project for the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum on Main Street. The project is called Water Ways and showcases people from across the country who have a special and intimate relationship with water.
Tiffany Cheng is a Curatorial Assistant and Media Producer for the Museum on Main Street and says Price was an obvious choice for the project.
“I wanted to meet him and talk to him about the craft of dugout canoes and the tradition and connection, the cultural connection to the water here in Alaska,” Cheng said.
Cheng says the project is a window into people’s lives and a reflection of what water means to them.
“And the goal is not for us to tell the story it’s for them to say it for themselves so that’s our goal for coming out and meeting people like Wayne and hearing from them directly instead of just text on a wall or out of book,” Cheng says.
Cheng says, the project is not a documentary. Besides Price will include a crabber in Louisiana, a shrimp boat captain in Mississippi and a conservationist who works in the Florida Everglades.
Cheng found Price through the Sealaska Heritage Institute and came to Haines for a couple of days last week to film Price and friends. Once she arrived in Haines, Cheng and her cameraman hopped on a local fishing boat to get some shots of Price and his crew paddling one of his prized canoes.
Back at Price’s studio, Cheng learned about his carving and more about the Tlingit culture. Price walked her through the process, describing a maze of pencil lines on the floor he uses as a precise method of measuring during the boat-building process.
Cheng was also treated to a private singing and drumming performance by Price, Ted Hart and Zachary James.
For Price, sharing his passion comes easily. He enjoys teaching young people in the region how to carve and the significance of dugout canoes. And, he says, taking part in the Water Ways project is another good way to spread the word about what he refers to as an endangered art. He says the canoes are one more way to foster traditional values.
“The Tlingit people come from the water,” Price says. “We’re people of the tide. We’ve always said when the tide goes out it’s time to go to eat. We gather all our food from the beach or the woods inside the beach. Our whole way of living has been on the water and with the tides.”
Price says the fact that interest in this specialized craft is waning, is simply a sign of the times. But local young people are getting more involved these days, he says, and taking an interest in learning the trade.
The Water Ways exhibition will launch in May, 2016, in Florida, Idaho and Illinois first. The project will travel to various small towns across the U.S. for six years.