I had been given several strips of baleen so I initially shaped a piece into a wing. I then decided it needed to be attached to a bird so I started to carve a bird’s body out of serpentine. As I carved the shape it reminded me more of a human body and seemed to work better than a bird’s body. I then merged the two to make a shaman transformation.
I thought it would be more interesting if this shaman was portrayed as a woman. Shamans can be female but most people associate them with men. I thought this would make the sculpture more attractive visually and would allow me to include tattoos on her face. The female face on the back has whalebone tattoos as this material contrasted so well with the green serpentine.
I modelled the bird’s head on a real ptarmigan head of a bird that I had hunted. I thought the ptarmigan’s head had a beautiful feminine quality and was ideal for the shaman’s head. We hunt ptarmigan as they are a big part of our diet in Labrador.
The feathering under the arms was especially difficult to achieve with my carving tools. I decided to keep the figure as a matte finish but kept rubbing the stone with my hand oils to darken the stone. Polishing the body would hide all the detailing and the delicate feathering. I wanted the base polished as this would bring out the colours in the stone and would make it contrast with the figure. I added a baleen tail to the body and baleen feather strips to act as a crest on the ptarmigan’s head. I inlaid labradorite for the eyes.
The ivory fish was the last piece that I carved because I felt the detailed talon needed to be holding something. I was always fascinated watching fish hawks (Ospreys) swooping down grabbing fish with their talons at the river near here. Fish oil has always been an important part of the Inuit diet too. Initially I had thought to carve the fish out of whalebone but I can get more detail in ivory and the whiter material would stand out more against the dark green stone. The sculpture is the shaman transforming into a bird to catch a fish.
Billy was born on July 7, 1978, in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador. In his early years he travelled eastern Canada residing and schooling in Ottawa, Yarmouth and Halifax in Nova Scotia, then at the age of thirteen returned to live in Goose Bay. He now lives in North West River in Labrador and enjoys fishing and hunting on the land with his family.
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