Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Nunatukavut - My Stories Portrayed through Carving - by Sandra McGurk

We have a very special guest on Relics and Tales and are honoured to introduce Sandra McGurk, a talented artist who now resides in Victoria, B.C. with her husband John. We will catch a small glimpse of Sandra's talent here through some of her beautiful carvings done in arbutus and hazelnut wood. We present three of her walking sticks and canes where each depicts a story told through intricately carved figures and animals. The individual carvings on Sandra's canes are no larger than 3 inches (7 cm) in size - they appear larger in the photographs.

Thank you Sandra for joining us ! Also, thank you to our viewers !

My name is Sandra McGurk. I moved to Victoria (British Columbia, Canada) 5 years ago after living 20 years on the other coast in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I was born and raised in the Town of Carbonear, Newfoundland, population of 5000 people.

Growing up in the late sixties and seventies, I spent all of my summers and some of the winter holidays with my grandparents (my mother's family) and relatives in Labrador. They are the Inuit people called Nunatukavut, formerly named the Labrador M├ętis Nation.

During the summer they lived on an Island called Seal Island, population under 100, there they fished cod, salmon, whale and porpoise. They salted or pickled their fish for the winter. They prepared jams and preserves; refrigeration was non-existent, so keeping fresh fruit or other vegetation never took place. Labrador’s wild Bakeapple berry was the most important source of fruit or treat.

During the winter months they moved inland to a place called Charlottetown, population roughly 400, where they trapped for fox, mink and muskrat. They mended their nets for the summer and made or mended their clothes. They hunted caribou and seals. One of the greatest past times was ice fishing for both sea and brook trout.

Travelling up north to the Labrador in the winter months tended to be a huge challenge due to the harsh weather and the different modes of transportation. We flew inland by plane and changed over to a smaller plane or helicopter, then travelled by Komatik (huge sled formally hooked up to dog team which was later replaced by skidoos). These huge sleds carried people, luggage and supplies. For me it was the best roller coaster ride I ever had.

One of the best stories and inspirations came from a Christmas trip visiting my grandparents when I was 11 years old. After ignoring our parent’s rules about going off into the woods unsupervised, my younger brother and I decided to sneak away on our aunt's skidoo up to the local dump site to view the polar bears. We sped up the hill over the blind crescent and on the other side we saw not one, but seven, of the most beautiful creatures I had ever seen. Their huge paws ripped through bags and containers so gently they reminded me of the teddy bears seen on cartoons. Then gracefully, all seven bears stood up with their noses in the air, sniffing in our direction - that was our cue to leave immediately. Keeping the news a secret all winter long was the worst feeling ever.

I always enjoyed painting, drawing and some wood carving, but recently this year while walking along the local Victoria beaches I felt the need to touch, smell and study the many types of wood. That was when I decided to design each carving capturing Canadian Historic events and stories of my youth, stories of the life of the Nunatukavut people, my people.

The first piece carved was made from arbutus wood found on one of the local beaches. Then a friend of mine was very kind to give me a piece of his hazelnut wood from the tree in his own garden. I am now working on a canoe paddle which I have designed and am carving.


Anonymous said...

Michelle, you did a wonderful job putting this story together. The photos are lovely and really capture the essence that was intended in Sandi's work.


Sheila said...

Sandra your carvings are so beautiful. It seems that you have found the essence of the people and animals in the wood and brought them to the surface. I enjoyed reading about the time you spent with your grandparents in Labrador. Thanks for allowing Michelle to share your beautiful carvings with us!

Gill Bailey said...

I would love to carve it appears very difficult though!

Sandra said...

carving can be a little tricky to do only because if you make a mistake there's no erasing or fixing it. You can't glue or hide the mistake so you have to be creative and change the original plan into something else, normally it works out in the end, or worst case scenario start over. When you first start carving make sure you have plenty of bandages and Polysporin.....ha.ha I always had a box of bandaids in with my carving supplies.

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