This is the seventh installment of the 'Made on Haida Gwaii' feature series, by writer April Diamond Dutheil. Twice a month, we showcase the story of a talented young person who calls Haida Gwaii home. In this vast country, our major urban centres tend to soak up most of the attention. This collection of success stories, about young people living on these beautiful but remote islands off the Pacific coast, aims to disrupt the dominant myths of what it means to grow up in Canada's North.
Surrounded by Old Massett's argillite carving community, Amy Edgars began carving at the age of eight. After early aspirations for a career in nursing, Amy was inspired by her father to pursue the ancient art of argillite carving, taking up the craft full-time at the age of 16.
"I saw my dad and them carving every day, so I thought I better sit down and try it out," says Amy. "I've loved it ever since, even though my first pieces weren't the best."
Visitors from around the globe have purchased Amy's work. She recounts an especially memorable moment when visitors from Holland purchased her first carvings. "My second and third carvings went to Holland," she shares. "I didn't even have my own carving desk at the time. It took me weeks to finish those two pendants," she says. "I didn't even know how much to sell them for," Amy jokes.
This was a transformative moment in Amy's early artistic career and continues to reinforce the value of her work. "I was pretty excited. It kept me going and made me realize that people actually want to see my work," she says.
Amy is one of few Haida women argillite carvers. "I wonder why there aren't more female argillite carvers," she asks. "Maybe girls don't want to get dirty. It's a dirty job," she adds.
But being a woman has never stopped Amy, now 24. With a true appreciation for what she's carving, Amy partakes in the tradition of journeying to the only source of this kind of argillite in the world -- a secluded mountaintop in Haida Gwaii.
"It's hard work to get the argillite," she says, "It's tough. It's usually five of us -- me, my two younger brothers and a couple other guys." Beginning at four in the morning, this journey requires multiple modes of transportation across varying landscapes, including driving over land, boating across water, hiking up a mountain and selecting argillite pieces. And then there's the hard part: carefully packing the stone down the mountain. "I always try to carry down a piece that's too big for me," she jokes.
"It's hard work," says Amy, "but I sure appreciate it after the day is over. I just imagine all of the things that I get to carve."
Amy explains that she started carving as a way to keep focused. "It was boring growing up in Old Massett," she says. "That's why I started to carve, it gave me something to do. There's not a lot to do here for kids," she adds.
But Amy demonstrates that if you have the curiosity and creativity, the options for young people from Haida Gwaii are limitless. In fact, Amy has noticed a trend in recent years -- young people who are interested in argillite carving are coming to her with questions about how to get started.
Although a self-proclaimed introvert, Amy comes alive when mentoring and teaching carving skills. "I'm a really shy person," she says. "I wouldn't even talk in front of a group of people. But when it's a carving class it's different. When I'm teaching it's different."
Amy has taught carving skills to classes at George M. Dawson Secondary School and at Mount Moresby Adventure camp. Now when younger carvers come to her father's carving space for advice he directs them to Amy. "He says I'm a better teacher," she smiles.
With carefully crafted goals for the future, Amy shares her ambition to carve new mediums, including silver, gold and wood. Reflecting on her skill for engaging youth through the arts, Amy adds, "I really enjoy teaching, that is something more that I would like to do more of."
As for her longer-term goals, Amy says, "I eventually want to open my own shop in Old Massett, probably near my dad's house." She adds, with obvious admiration, "The number one reason why I love to carve is because I get to hang-out with my dad every day."
April Diamond Dutheil is a social advocate, entrepreneur, scholar and researcher of northern and Arctic issues, one of Canada's Top 20 Under Twenty and a recipient of the Association of Canadian Universities for Northern Studies' Northern Resident Research Award. April is committed to strengthening knowledge and understanding of the social issues facing Canada's North. You can follow @ProjectGwaii on Twitter.
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