Sunday, July 10, 2016

Argillite carvings: Authentic Haida art collectibles from British Columbia

I found out about Argillite while traveling
in beautiful Haida Gwaii
Carvings and carved jewelry made of Argillite is as authentic as you can get when it comes to collectibles from the land of the Haida people. The mine where this slate-like rock is found is owned by Haida, worked by the Haida and the Argillite is used only by Haida artisans. It is in a remote location in Haida Gwaii and not easily found.

But the beautiful carvings the Haida produce can be found in the gift shop on BC Ferries and in Haida Gwaii villages such as Skidegate and Masset.

If you want a piece of jewelry or memento from Haida Gwaii, consider a beautiful Argillite piece. Argillite is actually grey-green but when worked and polished becomes the beautiful black color that it is known for. Argillite carving became popular after the fur trade in the area diminished. The Haida wanted to trade with the Europeans and pipes were the first carved item made for trade. Around 1900 Argillite was shipped to Victoria for manufacturing but today the Haida have a monopoly on use of the argillite. This art form has been prized since the Haida first began carving it to sell to sailors around 1800.
Raven catches the light

When you look at Argillite pieces you will see a combination of European designs and Haida designs. Just like with Navajo sand paintings available for sale to tourists, the ceremonial designs are modified so that purchasers will have beautiful pieces but not those with cultural significance.

A great place to see Argillite pieces is at the Haida Heritage Center in Skidegate. There are also contemporary pieces for sale in the gift shop.

It is always best to buy closest to the source. Ideally you will encounter a carver when you visit Haida Gwaii. But if that is not possible, there are some good galleries and shops in places like Masset, BC where the owners know the artists and can guarantee authenticity.

One special stop that you must take as you travel through Old Masset admiring the beautiful totem poles, is Sarah’s Haida Arts and Jewelry. While Sarah is not Haida, her shop is full of carefully selected Haida jewelry (both silver and Argillite), cedar baskets and hats, books on local art and collectible carvings.

More Information
Book: "Argillite: Art of the Haida" by Wilson and Drew