and amulets are among the most ancient known examples of argillite
carving. Over the ages, argillite carving has evolved into monumental
sculpture and elaborately decorated art objects. Likewise, this exhibition
began as an exploration into the highly sculpted medallion forms, and
evolved towards the monumental sculptures associated with the long
career of Haida master carver, Christian White.
Christian White was born on Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) and
raised in the village of Old Masset. He is from the Dadens Yahgulaanas
Raven Clan and his Haida name is “Kilthguulans” (Voice of Gold).
He began to carve argillite at fourteen under the direction of his father,
Morris White. Haida Gwaii is renowned for producing some of the foremost
Northwest Coast artists, past and present. Christian had the opportunity,
at a young age, to visit the studios of other dedicated artists and to
also study publications documenting Haida art. His greatest influence
was the work of the old masters, and particularly his great, great grandfather,
The contemporary Haida artists have been among the leaders in the resurgence
of their culture, contributing major pieces and personally participating
in all events. The early recognition of the contemporary artists internationally
has allowed many to remain living in the traditional villages on Haida
Gwaii and to play larger roles in the community. In recent years, there
has been an even greater focus on ceremonial participation, language
recovery, and documentation of Haida art and culture - in some cases
revealing more history and supplying artists with new subjects to interpret.
Christian has been active at all levels of cultural activity.
Christian has been a self-supporting artist since the age of seventeen.
An early sculpture, “Man rescues his wife from the killerwhale” was
completed in 1978 and sold to his first major patron, his uncle, Oliver
White. Over a period of twelve years, Oliver White amassed a small collection
of argillite sculptures by Christian, which he later donated to the Haida
Gwaii Museum at Qay’llnagaay in Skidegate. Even his earliest works shows
an advanced knowledge of Haida forms, and his precision skills as a carver.
An ambidextrous carver, he has developed a definitive style of argillite
carving with elaborate use of inlays, and he has the ability to create
flow and dynamic tension in the interrelationship between the subjects
that is unrivaled by his peers.
At the age of twenty-two, a sculpture titled “Raven Dancer” was
purchased for the permanent collection of the UBC Museum of Anthropology.
His work is now in collections such as the Canadian Museum of Civilization
and the Royal British Columbia Museum, although an enthusiastic body
of private collectors has collected most of his work. His work is currently
included in the “Totems to Turquoise” exhibition hosted by
the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
In 1986 he completed, with his father, a 36’ Haida canoe, “Seal
Hunter” - Xuud Gadjuu, in Morris White’s Haida Canoe Shed, and in
1993, they carved a 42’ Haida canoe, “Eagle Beak” - K’odai
tluu. In 1995, Christian and his brother, Derek, carved a 52’ house pole
for their father’s chieftainship potlatch, where he took the name Chief
In 1998, Christian began a Haida arts apprenticeship program to train
promising young artists. During the first year, projects included a painted
cedar wall screen, paddles, and bentwood boxes. Christian is a member
of the Masset Repatriation Committee, which has successfully lobbied
to have Haida ancestral remains returned to Haida Gwaii from various
museums in Canada and the United States. Over the years, many boxes and
chests produced within the apprenticeship program have been presented
to the committee to hold the remains for reburial.
In 1999, the program concentrated on cedar mask carving, and they carved
an Eagle sculpture that was placed on the top of a new memorial pole
carved by Jim Hart - 7idansuu, and erected in Masset in honour of his
uncle, Morris White. The following year, the program concentrated on
totem carving, producing a 16’6” inner house pole and a 7’ Raven
pole, and a 7’ Halibut pole. The majority of pieces produced within the
program have been used for cultural purposes. Currently, he has been
creating a traditional carved and painted longhouse in Old Masset.
Throughout this period, Christian has continued to carve major works
in argillite. Argillite is a slate-like stone indigenous to Haida Gwaii,
and particularly to the mountain top quarry at Slatechuck. Argillite
is considered a cultural property, reserved for use by Haida artists.
The stone at the time of harvest is slate gray, but fine tool finish
on the argillite creates a lustrous black patina. Each piece is elaborately
designed, and meticulously finished in fine detail and has been hand-polished
throughout the carving process. Finally, the piece is inlaid with abalone,
catlinite, mother of pearl, and mastodon ivory, and is often set into
precious metals. Christian’s narrative style has influenced many emerging
artists as well as establishing the future direction for argillite carving
as a whole.