Avis Nalaga O’Brien, a Haida/Kwakwakw’wakw artist, was born in Alert Bay, British Columbia. She belongs to the Kaa’was Staa’stas Eagle Clan from Kiusta Village in Haida Gwaii and the Geegilgum Clam of the Likwiolk people of Cape Mudge. Nalaga’s introduction to the treasures of the Northwest Coast started when she learned to weave from her older sister, Meghann O’Brien. This was the beginning of her journey to where she is now, embracing the richness of her cultural heritage and creating jewelry and artwork that reflects the beauty of Northwest Coast Native design.
Nalaga is a carver, weaver, painter, designer and jeweler. She started her company, Nalaga Designs in 2013 as a way to share the cultural knowledge and elegance of cedar bark weaving with the world. Cedar bark weaving has been her connection to the rich legacy of the Haida and Kwakwakw’wakw, and has also been a doorway for her to pursue other artforms. Nalaga Designs offers a unique array of cedar bark weavings, two dimensional designs, limited edition prints, trade bead jewelry, clothing and accessories.
Cedar bark weaving has been part of the culture of the peoples of the Northwest Coast for thousands of years; it was and continues to be an integral part of the culture. Her jewelry, baskets and hats represent an important continuation of the ancient legacy of Northwest Coast woven adornment. Nalaga fuses age-old techniques with modern style to create products that can be shared with the world.
Nalaga’s two dimensional designs, paintings and carvings are a way for her display the lineage and history of her people. They embody the power and beauty of her ancestors and those of the supernatural world in which her people originate. Nalaga dedicates her life, emotionally, spiritually and physically to preserving her culture and revitalizing the stories of her people through the art she creates.
Nalaga also brings together history, tradition and fashion with her ancient trade bead jewelry. Her jewelry tells the story of the fur trade that took place on the Northwest Coast during first contact. The ancient energy in her jewelry can be felt when wearing the pieces.
Nalaga has had many teachers who have helped her on her path including Master Haida weaver Meghann O’Brien, her old sister. Nalaga has been apprenticing with Master Haida Carver, Jay Simeon, learning the foundations of Haida design, painting and carving. She has also worked with Master Kwakwakw’wakw carvers Beau Dick and Bruce Alfred.
The name Nalaga comes from the Kwakwak’wakw peoples of the North West Coast. Nalaga means “bringer of daylight” or “woman of light” in Kwakwala. This name has been passed down in her family for generations. Avis has an important responsibility when carrying this name; to carry herself in a way in which reflects sharing her light with the world. She is preserving her culture and traditions as a way to fulfill her social and cultural responsibilities of her traditional name.