Walter Harris was born in 1931 to Chris and Clara Harris, who were both from prominent families. Walter was raised in Kispiox and is a member of the Gitxsan nation located in northern British Columbia, Canada.
Walter and his wife, Sadie, have five children, twenty grandchildren and three great grandchildren. His two sons have carried on the carving tradition, learning and working with him on several projects.
Walter has been successful in almost every venture he has undertaken. Before his career as an artist, Walter’s energy, talents and determination contributed to his success in various vocational ventures, such as a miner, sawmill owner/operator, carpenter and commercial fisherman. His belief in preserving and creating the traditional form of Northwest Coast art contributed to his decision to leave all facets of his employment in 1969.
In 1957 Walter received his uncle’s hereditary chief name “Geel.” Receiving this name and its responsibilities established him as the recognized head chief of Kispiox, amongst the other chiefs of the Gitksan nation.
While taking part in the construction of a replica of the Gitxsan village now known as ‘Ksan, Walter was intrigued by the forms and symbolisms of Northwest Coast First Nations art. This awakened interest inspired his enrolment in the newly formed Kitanmaax School of Northwest Coast Indian Art in 1969. He studied and mastered jewellery making under Jack Leyland, wood carving under Duane Pasco and Doug Cranmer, and attended seminars on Northwest Coast graphic design given by Bill Holm.
Walter eventually developed his talents to the point of being named senior instructor of wood sculpture at ‘Ksan, a post which he proudly held from 1972 to 1985.
As Walter mastered his art he created his own unique style that adhered closely to Gitxsan tradition. Walter is world renowned for his unique and exquisitely detailed masterpieces that reflect the traditional form of northwest coast art.
He keeps rubbings of all his jewellery to ensure that each engraving is “one of a kind.” The public recognition and appreciation of his artistic talents and versatility have allowed him to continue pursuing his career in art.
Throughout the years numerous of his select pieces have found their way into publications and private collections of well-known authorities and collectors in Northwest Coast art from many countries around the world. A highlight of his art career came in 1978 when he was appointed to the Fine Arts Committee of Canada that selects significant artefacts to be purchased by the federal government of Canada.
In 1987, Walter’s artistic endeavours and productivity came to an abrupt end as a result of a stroke. Through the encouragement and support of his family and his own perseverance he was able to slowly begin a long journey toward recovery only to receive a further setback in the form of major heart surgery in 1990.
Throughout his career he has worked and assisted family members and other up-and-coming artists in designing, woodcarving, jewellery making and silk screening. Numerous artists’ have studied under his tutelage and many give him credit for this, acknowledging his contributions in building their self-esteem as carvers and as critics with regard to their own northwest coast designs.
The curriculum vita is a collection of his major accomplishments, however there are numerous pieces that are in the homes of private collectors and individuals throughout the world. They recognize and respect his creations as major art pieces in wood, limestone, jewellery and in silkscreen prints.
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