Becoming a terrific Northwest Coast carver usually takes quite a while.
There is so much to learn from seasoned, older carvers, mentors and teachers for young, promising, upcoming carvers.
After all you can’t teach or learn centuries of tradition in a short time.
But every once in a while a young carver emerges, who while not leapfrogging the system, sure proves that their talent supercedes that of a lot of other young carvers.
The Salish artist Tom Eneas was in the supercedes category.
Tom’s journey as an artist started with his mother Verna Baker.
She was his inspiration – urging him to examine his First Nation’s heritage by studying his people’s traditional art and culture.
So at age 21 Tom began to delve into the symbolism, the techniques, of the traditional forms and lines of Northwest Coast Art.
Three years later he carved his first mask – eventually used in a ceremonial dance, a great honour for anyone, but especially for him because of his young age.
He furthered his skills, apprenticing with the celebrated Kwakwaka’wakw artist, Kevin Cranmer.
Tom was honoured with several important commissions – the redesign of the Esquimalt Longhouse in 1995.
Three years later he and other First Nations artists carved a totem pole for the Vancouver Technical School.
In 1998, Tom was named as the artist in residence at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
His work is characterized by a revival of Salish visual culture and an acute awareness of the role of art in the revival and regeneration of traditional Salish culture.
I met Tom several times at the Douglas Reynolds Gallery in Vancouver and later at his home in North Vancouver, where he lived with his mother.
During one of his show openings at the Reynolds gallery I bought one his pieces – Moon Mask done in bronze.