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Carvers showcase talents at 98221 Studio Tour

by Briana Alzola / Anacortes American | Oct 25, 2017
Each Thursday, the Beaver Lodge, a small building tucked behind the Samish Indian Nation Administration Office, fills with people who turn, shape and carve pieces of wood into works of art. The carving circle, led by tribal member Tsul-Ton, aka Bill Bailey, showcased their art during the second annual 98221 Studio Tour this weekend.
Picture of woman with Coast Salish Carving
Janis Bailey Showcases one of the pieces she's working on during the 98221 Studio Tour. She works with several other carvers once a week inside the Beaver Lodge, a Samish Indian Nation building off of Commercial Avenue. The group shared their carvings with the public Saturday and Sunday.
Briana Alzola / Anacortes American

Each Thursday, the Beaver Lodge, a small building tucked behind the Samish Indian Nation Administration Office, fills with people who turn, shape and carve pieces of wood into works of art.

The carving circle, led by tribal member Tsul-Ton, aka Bill Bailey, showcased their art during the second annual 98221 Studio Tour this weekend.

People on the tour stopped in to see the paddles, bowls, masks and other carvings completed by the Samish people and their guests.

Carving is important to the Samish people, Bailey said.

He was not raised learning the language and traditions of the tribes. After serving in the military in the 1970s, Bailey felt a strong cultural draw to the Coast Salish designs and how they were traditionally passed down through the generations.

He started carving without knowing anything about which knives to use or proper technique, but images and designs would come to him in his sleep.

“They were there for a reason,” he said.

He started studying with different carvers and teachers and visiting museums to see the old designs.

Bailey said he connected with the idea of native spirituality, that all things had a life and a spirit. He would have a cedar plank, for example, and would feel the life that it once had. Carving is a way of bringing a piece of wood back to life, he said.

A lot of the time, the wood itself tells him what it wants to be, Bailey said. He will start a carving, and it will turn into something else entirely, depending on the wood.

Bailey often works on commission and has pieces on display around Anacortes and throughout the Pacific Northwest. He sent some panels he designed to the Karshner Museum in Puyallup. In the cultural exchange, the museum sent back some Samish artifacts, Bailey said.

Bailey hopes people outside of the tribe who are interested in carving or in Coast Salish design stop by the carving circle and learn what they can about the art. Passing the art form to a new generation will help preserve it.

Examples of carvings by Samish Indian Nation Beaver Lodge
The carvers meet once a week to work on their pieces.
Briana Alzola / Anacortes American

Janis Bailey (no relation to Bill) is a member of the tribe who started carving more than 15 years ago. She had seen an advertisement for a class on native art and decided to try it.

She has been carving ever since.

She works on other types of Samish art, too, like weaving cedar baskets, and participates in the cultural days the tribe hosts each month.

Janis Bailey said the best thing about the carving circle is the great environment for the artists.

People are always helping each other and sharing.

“If you are stuck, you get help from someone else,” she said.

John Watje has been carving for about 16 years, starting at first to help with PTSD and depression after serving in the Vietnam War. He’s not a member of the Samish tribe but carves with tribal members each week.

Watje worked with a teacher with the Lummi Nation and another with the Northwest Indian College before studying with Tim Runyan on Camano Island.

Now, he teaches people in Bellingham how to carve.