James Crawford

Region: Vancouver Island

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Artist Statement

With the evolution of every culture there will come an evolution of the art as well. As the lives of the indigenous peoples of North America have had to adapt and evolve to include iPhones, email, greenhouse gases and "Jet A" fuel, spewing from the leaky pipeline fed refineries, so should our art adapt. I don't have to chew dried salmon eggs and cedar bark to make a paste to spit into a pestle to mix along with a pigment (which isn't to say I wouldn't - in fact I'm quite intrigued with the idea), I merely need to walk downtown and shell out a few sand dollars for some gouache. I don't need to ceremoniously remove some bark from a cedar tree, I just need to have a few thousand of them ground into a pulp and rolled out to a workable size and thickness for me to smear my gouache upon or put my chisel to. Such is the evolution of the art... And this is the evolution of mine.

James Crawford, 2017


I am culturally very adaptable, I think. I tend to have an understanding of my surroundings and fit in where I am. I was raised by a Sami(indigenous Swedish)/Polish mother and a Scottish/English father. They did everything they could to make me feel my own true roots and heritage, being predominately Haida, matrilineally, of course, at the same time showing me that they would always be my family, through anything and everything, which today is still true.

I think that often I have struggled to find an identity within any of the cultures of my within my life. My art, I feel, follows those trends at times, if not always, struggling to find an identity in all of this. Some things a lifetime will not provide an understanding for, though in our various means of expression, perhaps we can find a truth in our questions.

My art itself, has a journey of its own to find it’s own identity, both in form as well as belonging, or even in personal means of expression - I write, I draw, I carve, I design and play music. I build and I blacksmith. As a young boy, I learned how to make lino block prints – a passion which I have recently rediscovered.
I met my biological mother and family just before my twentieth birthday. I quit my job working in a music store in a mall on my twentieth birthday, and left what had become my home, Victoria B.C. in February, 2000. I travelled north, to new adventure in my life…

In April of 2000, I began working for the Haida Gwaii Watchmen Program in the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve in the southern part of Moresby Island, Haida Gwaii. There I spent the next ten years of my life, in the spring and summer months, caring for the villages of my ancestors. I worked in Skedans, Tanu, Windy Bay, Hotspring Island and Sgan Gwaii, maintaining the villages by removing growth from the poles and house remains, as well as cutting the grass around them. Though many of the poles have been removed and transported to various museums and collections around the world, there was always lots to do there, between the conservation work and the tourists. An other part of the job was also to maintain a somewhat traditional lifestyle as well, so we spent a lot of time fishing and gathering seafood and berries.

Inspired by the art and way of life of my ancestors, I enrolled in the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art in 2008, where I received instruction from Stan Bevan, Ken McNeil and Dempsey Bob. Over the two years in which i completed my diploma from the school, I learned to draw, paint and carve in the Northwest Coast style, and eventually in my own Haida style, which i will continue to develop over my lifetime.

Though I am still learning the stories of my ancestors, I have learned to tell the stories of my own life through my art. The old knowledge is the key to making sense of the contemporary forms the art has taken. I believe the art is not a dead language, but rather a living one, changing constantly, as do our ways of life. So, as the art, I too shall change in my journey through life, and continue to express these things in whatever medium I may chose, for the rest of my days.

— James Crawford, 2015

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