ROOTS THAT CONNECT US ALL Isabel Rorick & Robin Rorick: A Mother & Son Collaboration P R E S E N T E D
S T O N I N G T O N
G A L L E R Y
e are all a part of a giant complex weaving of life that requires respect and love to further interconnection. The trees are nourished by earthâ€™s elements and by the life cycle of the plants, insects, fish and all the other animals. In return the trees provide gifts of life for all those who are living. It is the same for the roots that connect us to our ancestors. Weaving, painting and carving are a part of this sacred cycle and the energies that we portray are stories that come through us when we allow it and when we take the time to listen and feel. This is the way of our ancestors. -Isabel Rorick & Robin Rorick
mong the most fascinating aspects of the rich and ancient weaving traditions of the Pacific Northwest Coast are the collaborations between men and women artists. “Roots That Connect Us All” shines a light on the historic Haida artistic collaboration of women weaving and men painting those weavings. This art form was immortalized in the painted weavings of Charles and Isabella Edenshaw. Often acknowledged as the greatest historic artists from the Pacific Northwest Coast, Charles and Isabella’s collaborative works are among the finest objects held in museum collections throughout the world. The recent Charles Edenshaw retrospective exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery provided a rare opportunity for scholars, artists and the public to view a collection of work loaned from museums throughout the world.
sabel Rorick is the great-granddaughter of the great turn-of-the-century Haida artists Isabella and Charles Edenshaw. She and her son, Robin, have dived deep into their family roots to research and understand the magnificent processes behind the Edenshaws’ famed woven and painted objects. Isabel has spent most of her adult life studying Isabella’s woven works in museum collections. The 2013 Vancouver Art Gallery exhibit was a muse for her son, Robin Rorick, steering him towards the decision to paint his mother’s weavings for this exhibition at Stonington Gallery.
Above: Hat (Before 1911) Made by Isabella Edenshaw, Painted by Charles Edenshaw. Spruce root and paint. Canadian Museum of Civilization.
n our thirty- five years of curating many important and memorable exhibitions, this show is among the most meaningful. Excellence is a rare thing. Charles and Isabella Edenshaw’s art marked a seminal time in the art of the Haida. We are truly honored to exhibit the collaborative works by the Roricks this fall, and to be the venue where this familial and historic art form rises once more.
he collaborative painted weavings in “The Roots That Connect Us” are an extraordinary tribute to Charles and Isabella Edenshaw. The love, respect and gratitude within each piece is a gift to all of us. The Roricks’ work suggests that the most important legacy left by the Edenshaws lies within their descendants, showing that great Haida art is not just in the past, but in the present and yet to come. -Rebecca Blanchard & Nancy Davenport, Co-Directors of Stonington Gallery
Exhibition runs November 2-26, 2016.
stonington gallery CONTEMPORARY MASTERWORKS OF THE NORTHWEST COAST 125 SOUTH JACKSON STREET • SEATTLE WA 98104 ART@STONINGTONGALLERY.COM WWW.STONINGTONGALLERY.COM • 206.405.4040 OPEN DAILY • LOCATED IN HISTORIC PIONEER SQUARE Catalog published by Stonington Gallery (c) 2016. Designed by Sarra Scherb, Photographed by Ashley Genevieve.
Sea Bear Basket Isabel Rorick & Robin Rorick Woven and Painted Spruce Root Approx 5”h x 4”w x 4”d
Red Tail Hawk (In Progress) Isabel Rorick & Robin Rorick Woven and Painted Spruce Root 9.88’’ × 8”
Eagle Panel Robin Rorick Red Cedar, Acrylic 35.5” x 35” x 2”
Raven Hat Isabel Rorick & Robin Rorick Woven and Painted Spruce Root 7” x 14.25” x 14.25”
Killerwhale Basket Isabel Rorick & Robin Rorick Woven and Painted Spruce Root 5”h x 7.25”w x 7.25”d
Robin Rorick prepared to paint his mother’s baskets by visiting the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology and studying the painted weavings by his great-great-grandparents, Isabella and Charles Edenshaw. He also sought guidance from family member and Haida master artist Robert Davidson: “When I arrived at the UBC Museum of Anthropology I went to a room where the collection of Isabella and Charles Edenshaw’s were set out for me to study. I was told I could handle the pieces if I chose to. I sat down in front a beautiful basket with a frog design. The basket was similar to the one my mother wove.
“Sea Bear” Basket in Process of Painting, Summer 2016
When I picked the basket up I was overcome with a feeling that I cannot express in words: my hands holding the basket began shaking and I was unable to steady them. I was so happy to be among all these amazing pieces of work. It felt like going back in time. I spent several hours looking closely at each piece. It was hard for me to leave. When I left I felt a greater understanding of the design and relationship to the weaving.
The next day I went out to Robert Davidson’s studio where I spent the rest of the week. Robert liked my designs but wanted a few changes. I spent the first day reworking the design, the following day Robert told me to put design on the basket and begin my painting. I spent the rest of the week at his studio. Robert liked my designs but wanted a few changes. I spent the first day reworking the design, the following day Robert told me to put design on the basket and begin my painting. Robert showed me some techniques of painting on spruce root. It was a great feeling to be in my uncle’s studio painting on my mother’s spruce root weaving, doing what my Ancestors have been doing for as long as anyone can remember.
Most of the painting seemed to come naturally, until I was designing the thin red line lines. I felt that these lines were needed to help balance the design and the negative spaces on the basket. This process caused frustration because I knew they were needed but if done incorrectly it could ruin the look of everything. I was very frustrated with this for a couple of days. During the night I had a dream, and in my dream Charles Edenshaw came to me. He was very calm when he talked: he told me not to think so hard about the thin lines but to feel them and be relaxed when I design. He also told me that that the lines don’t necessarily play off of the design but off of itself and the negative space. When I awoke I went and I drew the red lines on the basket with ease and finished the painting.” -Robin Rorick, April 2016
“Killerwhale Basket” detail.
Gathering Spruce Root All of Isabel Rorick’s spruce root weaving begins with a walk along the sand dunes of the north beaches of Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands). The dunes are becoming overgrown with salal, alder, cedar and hemlock (as well as private property and for sale signs). It is becoming more and more difficult to find clear mossy patches under the Sitka spruce trees. “The harvesting of the roots is the most strenuous part of the whole process,” says Isabel. “We pack our lunch and digging equipment, including plastic bags, cotton gloves, sharp knives, matches and an axe.” “Before I begin digging, I say a prayer and I thank the spirits of the forest and the spruce trees. I think this is very important. I make a promise to put back the moss the best I can when I’m done. One time I didn’t keep my promise. For whatever reason, I was not able to cover up an area where I dug. Over the winter I had reoccurring dreams of the trees being very upset about having exposed roots during the freezing weather. I felt very bad. So, the next summer I made sure I found the spot. I made an apology and an offering and I covered up the earth. So now I make sure that I never leave the roots and the earth exposed.” A test patch is dug to look for nice straight roots--the largest being approximately the size of one’s pinky, and the finest the size of coarse threads.
“The longest roots are about twenty to thirty feet. On the rare occasion, we’ve pulled some sixty feet long. The shortest that I keep is about one and a half feet.” Isabel and her husband, Steve, will pull roots for about five hours, and will dig in the same area for two or three days. They gently pull the roots from the ground in long straight sections. The roots are tied in bundles as they are pulled from the earth. Following the digging, the roots are taken to the beach where a fire is built and preparations are made to roast the roots. The roots are roasted in small bundles in a hot fire. The bundles are moved and turned in the fire with a green alder stick. It is important to cook the roots just the right amount because overcooked roots will become too dry to skin, while undercooked roots turn dark when skinned. After cooking, the roots are pulled through a split piece of wood that has been stuck in the ground. The skinned roots are now placed in a bag to keep them moist. The roots are split once, re-bundled and dried in a warm, dark place for several days. To ensure a year’s supply of roots, they will make at least five more trips to the forest. Before the roots are woven into a hat or basket they are graded for size. They are soaked in rainwater for several hours before they are split and trimmed. The thin threads are then ready to be woven into baskets or hats.
Photos of Isabel and Steve Rorick gathering, soaking, toasting spruce root, courtesy of Isabel Rorick.
Weaving Spruce Root
Isabel Rorick and her mother, Primrose Adams, are some of the only weavers in Canada making spruce root hats. Isabel does not weave on forms, giving each hat a unique shape and size. Isabel weaves a hat band into the inside of each hat according to the traditional design meant to keep rain and sun off of one’s head. Each of these hats takes approximately six weeks worth of eight to ten hour days to weave. These photos show different parts of the weaving process, including the hand-drawn patterns hanging in her studio (facing page, top left), the start of a hat (facing, top right), the end of a hat (left), and an almost completed rattle (above, right). The embroidered bear paws on the rattle above are woven with grass dyed with iron oxide. Lighter patterns on her woven objects are made from sun bleached grass from Rorick’s garden, applied in a process known as ‘false embroidery’. Images: Top left on both pages: Video still from BC Creative Achievement Award for First Nations’ Art Video. 2009. All others courtesy of Isabel Rorick.
Prayer for the Rivers Rattle Salmon Bone Rattle Isabel Rorick Isabel Rorick Spruce Roots, Sun-bleached Grass, Grass-dyed with Iron Oxide, Spruce Root, Sun Bleached Wheat Grass, Haida Gwaii Agates & Yellow Cedar, Carnelians, Haida Gwaii Agates Crystals, Yellow Cedar, Gourd, Paua, Goose Down, Feathers 8”h x 3.5”w x 3.5”d 10.25”h x 7”w x 4”d
Raven Timelines Basket Isabel Rorick Isabel Rorick Spruce Root, Sun-Bleached Grass, Maidenhair Fern, Haida Gwaii Agates 3.5”h x 3.25”w x 3.25”d
Eagle Down Pouch/Basket Isabel Rorick Spruce Root 5”h x 2.5”w x 2.5”d
The Story of the First Basket It has been told that the Raven, the same one that created our ancestral home, instructed the weaving of the first spruce root basket. A very long time ago, the Haida didn’t have enough food to eat. A young girl took more than her share. Her mother scolded her shamefully and scratched her face. During the night, when everyone was asleep, the girl fled with her older sister to a place beside a beautiful lake. There, they encountered a spirit helper in the form of a man (some say it was Raven in disguise). Learning of her predicament, he instructed them to pull up spruce roots, split them and weave them around their thumbs to make a basket. He told them to put one of each kind of food into the basket. The basket grew with the bounty of the food. Water Blessing Basket Spruce Root 2.5”h x 4.25”w x 4.25”d
The man shook the basket to shrink it back to its original size for easy traveling. The girls returned to the village with the basket where they were welcomed back with tears of happiness and great joy. The older sister set the basket down and it grew magically, revealing the bounty of food. Everyone in the village received a gift of food. When their mother received her gift of food she died of shame, as it came from the daughter she had punished so severely. Miniature Scallop Shell Berry Basket Alder Bark, Dyed Alder Bark, Spruce Root 3”h x 3”w x 3”d
Isabel Rorick is a Haida weaver from Old
Masset, a village at the north end of Haida Gwaii, also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands. She comes from a long line of Haida weavers: her mother, Primrose Adams is a weaver, as was her grandmother Florence Edenshaw Davidson. Isabel began weaving cedar bark when she was thirteen. Her paternal grandmother, Selena Peratrovich taught her to weave spruce root baskets from materials they had gathered at Masset. IsaIsabel Rorick in her studio. Video still from BC Creative Achievement bel started to make hats in 1982. With help from Award for First Nations’ Art Video. 2009 her mother, her education was fortified by time spent at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria studying the old Haida hats and baskets, some woven by members of her own family. At the Royal British Columbia Museum and at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Quebec, Isabel studied the old patterns and finishing edges that she now uses in her own work. “I started weaving in 1968 when I was thirteen years old. Nonny Selina (“Nonny” is grandmother in Haida) came to visit us every year. She would often harvest her weaving materials on these trips. After one such visit, I found three bundles of cedar bark on a basement floor. I secretly set myself up in the basement with a knife, bowl and a bucket of water. I worked there silently every day for several hours. Sometimes I would hear my Mother or sisters saying, “Where is Isabel? She disappears every day.” Not until I completed several crude pieces of plaited baskets and a small hat did I let on to my daily disappearance. Once my sisters found out, they joined me.”
“On Nonny’s next visit to Massett, my Dad showed her my work. Right away she offered to teach me the proper way to weave. Over the summer I decided to go to Ketchikan to learn how to weave. I made two cedar bark baskets. I looked forward to weaving one out of spruce root. I went on my first root digging trip with Nonny that fall. I was thinking I was getting myself roots. At the end of the day, she grabbed my bag and said “Thank you Dugwung.” (That’s like saying “dear” or “honey.”) I couldn’t believe it. She did this several times. She did this to Aunty Delores too. I enjoyed weaving very much, but in the back of my mind I still wanted to carve. However, I continued my weaving trips to Ketchikan and harvest expeditions with Nonny whenever she came to Massett. In the summer of 1978, Robert Davidson and his eight apprentices were carving totems for house posts. They began their apprenticeship making carving tools. What a wonderful opportunity, I thought. Everyday I went to the carving shop to work on my tools. Nobody in my family approved of what I was doing, but I didn’t care. One day, I was happily working on my tools. Nonny Selina came along. She came straight to me. She didn’t waste any time. She went right to the point. She said, “What are you doing? Are you going to weave or are you going to carve? If you’re going to weave, come with me right now!” I left with her and I never looked back. That was a snap decision, don’t you think?”
Robin Rorick is descended from the Yahgulaanas Raven Clan of the Haida Nation. He is a left-handed artist. His works range from large scale cedar carvings and large scale cedar and canvas ceremonial dance screens to limited edition prints and drums and medium scale carvings as well as some ceremonial items that will not appear in his artist portfolio. He was raised on Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) and Hornby Island. His Haida name is Sk’uyuu. Robin’s mother is renowned Master Spruce Root Weaver, Isabel Rorick. To paint her weavings, Robin trained under his Uncle, Robert Davidson. Robin previously learned from his Uncle’s series of design workshops for Haida artists on Haida Gwaii. He apprenticed under Master Canoe Carver Joe Martin to make a traditional Nuu-chah-nulth dugout canoe, and apprenticed under his cousin Ben Davidson for the carving of a 30 foot totem pole. Robin’s maternal great great grandparents were Haida Artists Charles and Isabelle Edenshaw, his great grandparents Robert and Florence Davidson, and his grandparents Victor and Primrose Adams. His paternal great grandmother was Selina Peratrovich. Robin is most influenced by the Classical Haida art of Charles Edenshaw. In his daily creation practice, Robin strives for continuity with his ancestors through intensive study of Haida ancestral works. Robin Rorick with in-progress spruce root hat, Tofino, 2016.
At the end of 2009 Robin went to Guatemala as part of a Haida contingency to share in an arts and culture exchange with the Mayan people at Lake Atitlan. The theme of this gathering was “Strengthening the Ancient Spiritual Trade Routes.” While in attendance, Robin shared his Haida art and performed Haida songs and dances in exchange with the Mayans. Dogfish Mask Robin Rorick Red Cedar, Acrylic 16.5”h x 11”w x 5”d
S T O N I N G T O N G A L L E R Y . C O M
November 2016 Exhibition at Stonington Gallery.