McMichael - Canadian Art | Collection d'art Canadien

Don Yeomans, Where Cultures Meet

Video by Trace Yeomans on the making of the McMichael Totem.


Don Yeomans "Where Cultures Meet"European explorers who arrived in British Columbia in the eighteenth century, regarded the  carved wooden poles of the Northwest Coast cultures as compelling cultural objects. John Webber who travelled with Captain James Cook in 1778 recorded the designs of the poles that he saw. Webber’s drawings were subsequently reproduced in Captain Cook’s published account of his travels to British Columbia. After trade relations were established between the people of the Northwest Coast and the Europeans, production of totem poles increased. These carvings representing family or personal crests and symbols were indicative of the status and wealth of the person who owned them. By the nineteenth century, a number of types of totem poles were categorized but the types of totem poles varied by culture. 

A more recent trend in carving is the commissioned pole such as Where Cultures Meet. These wooden columns are produced for nontraditional purposes and places. They serve as reminders of the expressive and adaptive aspects of Northwest Coast carving. Artist Don Yeomans explains the purpose of the crests and technological references that he has incorporated into this carving:

Since ancient times there have always been two clans among the Haida people, the Raven Clan and the Eagle clan. Within each clan, numerous crests define the individual families. I have used both Raven and Eagle on the totem to represent all Haida people. The frog is a sub-crest of the Eagle Clan. The cell phone, Laptop, and MP3 player represent three aspects of modern life. I feel they are as much a part of contemporary Haida life as they are in any culture. It is on the electronic playground these formats provide that all cultures meet.

Don Yeomans was born in Prince Rupert, British Columbia in 1958. His mother was Métis and his father was Haida. His training as a carver began when he was ten years old with Freda Diesing, a well-respected carver was also a carving instructor who worked in Prince Rupert. Yeomans attended her evening class where, even at a young age, he demonstrated an exceptional ability to carve. Under Diesing’s tutelage, Yeoman’s began to create his own designs and to learn about other artists' work. During his high school years, his art teacher arranged for him to make murals for the school building. After graduation, he attended a fine arts program at Langara College in Vancouver. Following the completion of the program, he travelled to Haida Gwaii to apprentice with Robert Davidson to assist on a carving project. Over time, Yeomans continued to add to his knowledge of carving techniques and to study the art forms of several Northwest Coast cultures. Throughout the development of his career, Yeomans has also continued to introduce nontraditional forms and colours in his carvngs in order to extend carving traditions and reflect the changing conditions within cultures.

Image: Don Yeomans, Where Cultures Meet, 2009, red cedar, acrylic
Commissioned by the McMichael Canadian Art Collection with funding generously provided by the McMichael Canadian Art Foundation, 2009.5

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