Argillite became a popular carving medium after the decline of the sea otter fur trade in the early 19th century. These carvings enabled Haida to trade with visiting Europeans. Argillite carvings, therefore, are commonly seen as a tourist art because they were firstly designed to be exported from the Haida community and created solely as a means of economic prosperity. As a result argillite carvings contain imagery that encompass both Haida and European cultures. Sometimes the imagery is mixed with traditional Haida forms melding with European styles. Often in argillite carvings, traditional Haida images are confused so that they lose their important cultural meanings. This ensured that culturally symbolic imagery was not being used as a means of economic prosperity for the community. These forms of argillite carvings also contained a lot of visual punning and joke making both at objects and animals in general as well as European culture. The argillite that the Haida use to carve is located on Queen Charlotte Islands, also known as the Haida Gwaii. The quarry is owned by the Haida who have the sole right to use the substance from that quarry for carving. Today argillite carvings are sold in galleries and fine art stores and take on a more traditional Haida forms.
Haida artists have been carving the black slate of the island of Haida Gwaii for several hundred years. From its conception, the art has depicted a variety of images, from traditional Haida forms, to Western figures. Despite this, Haida argillite carving has only been studied systematically during the last thirty to forty years. It is commonly known as a tourist art because of the circumstances surrounding its creation and the subject matter which it often contained. In truth, argillite carving is much more than a simple tourist art. The art form has grown to be highly prized by museums and private collectors. Canadian anthropologists and ethnographers have been studying argillite for approximately 60 years as have, albeit more recently, American art historians. Argillite carving continues to thrive today and it can be expected that new phases and periods will emerge as time goes on.
Spirit Wrestler Gallery
47 Water Street
Canada V6B 1A1
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3 blocks from Waterfront Station
Between Abbott St. and Carrall St.
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