Alfie Collinson is an amazing Northwest Coast carver.
Arguably his argillite carvings are among the best, the most intricate, the finest, among his Haida compatriots.
Collinson comes from a long heritage of Haida argillite carvers.
He is the grandson of renowned argillite carvers, Arthur Moody and Lewis Collinson.
He was profoundly influenced by the Haida artist Pat McGuire whose distinctive carving style was marked by clean sweeping lines.
When McGuire moved to Vancouver he formed an unofficial argillite carving school. Collinson was one of his students.
Early in his carving career, Collinson had several family members guide, mentor and teach him into becoming a great argillite carver.
At age 14 Collinson started carving in argillite under the watchful eye of his grandfather Arthur Moody.
His uncle Rufus Moody also helped him – teaching him to carve miniature argillite totem poles.
Life for Alfie was a constant learning experience.
His great-grandfather Lewis Collinson used to carve in argillite in front of a big window – allowing young Alfie and his friends to watch, to learn.
Alfie’s mastery and skills as an argillite carver came to fruition four years ago.
His art was recognized in a show at the Haida Gwaii museum in Skidegate, B.C.
“He continues to do just extraordinary pieces,” said Jisgang Nika Collison, the museum’s executive director and curator.
“Take the time to look at the materials he’s used, because the way he uses them is so innovative.”
Collinson’s carvings are distinct – some are first carved in argillite, then cast in silver and finally are gold plated.
Haida argillite carvings are a sculptural tradition of the Haida nation.
The argillite that the Haida use to carve is located on Haida Gwaii, formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, B.C., Canada.
The quarry is owned by the Haida who have the sole right to use the substance from the quarry for carving.
Argillite is a dense, black, carbonaceous shale.
A Personal Anecdote
The first time I saw an argillite carving was 20 years ago.
I remember it well – it was a Saturday afternoon – and I was doing my weekly tour of Vancouver art galleries
One of my favourite galleries – the Douglas Reynolds Gallery, a top Vancouver Northwest Coast art gallery.
I had been collecting Northwest Coast art for some time and was always on the hunt for new pieces.
So when I saw this argillite piece – sitting in a display case I was drawn to it.
I peppered gallery owner Douglas Reynolds with lots of questions, the last one – how much is it?
It was a lot and I said Douglas – I am pretty sure I will take it but let me think about it over the weekend.
On Monday I called the gallery saying – I will take it.
Several weeks later Alfie was in town and I met him at the gallery.
The first thing that struck me when shaking his big bear like-hands was – how does he carve such intricate pieces?
At that point in his life Alfie spent half of the year as a fisherman, the other half carving argillite.
What an honour to have met Alfie, the man who carved mine and my wife’s most treasured possession.