May 13, 2013

Artist Profile | Avis O'Brien

We've recently added a new artist to the Beyond Buckskin Boutique. Her name is Avis O’Brien, she is Haida / Kwakwaka’wakw, and she heads up her company, Nalaga Designs.

I'm very excited to introduce her work to the Boutique because her work - her cedar bark woven jewelry - represents an important continuation of the ancient legacy of Northwest Coast woven adornment. She fuses age-old techniques with modern style to create jewelry we can wear to work, to gatherings, and for events. Click below to read our interview and learn more about this artist.

BB: When and why did you start creating jewelry?
AB: I started creating jewelry about 2 years ago. The first thing I made was a pair of cedar hoops. I had a single small cedar hoop that my weaving teacher had made, so I decided to copy it. I loved it! It was not until about a year ago that I got into the business side of things and started selling my work. I fell in love with creating jewelry.

It is a gift to be able to fuse together traditional ways of life with modern fashion. Weaving is medicine for me. It is healing energy moving through me, grounding me. I am humbled to be able to carry on the practices of my ancestors, and bring tradition into the modern fashion world.

BB: I can't imagine the work that goes into weaving jewelry - can you tell us the general process that you go through to create your work?
AB: There is a six week window of opportunity to harvest bark each year in the Northwest Coast. This is from June to mid-July. Any other time of year the sap is running, which keeps you from being able to harvest the bark. The process is deeply spiritual. I give thanks to the tree for giving me its bark to work with and let her know that she will live on in the jewelry that I make. I hug the tree and receive its healing energies. Tobacco is put down, prayers are said, and a song is sung.

The method used to harvest bark ensures the survival of the tree. I find a straight, young tree with few branches. A cut about 6” wide and 2” high on each side is made into the outer bark of the tree. The bark is then peeled from the tree, then the outer bark removed. The inner bark is then ready to be soaked and split into pieces to be woven. I was taught not to use a jerry stripper, so all of my work is hand split.

BB: Who inspires you?
AB: My sister, Meghann O’Brien inspires me as a weaver. I was taught to weave by her 4 years ago. She is a Master Haida weaver and I have looked up to her since we were little girls. She pays very close attention to detail with her work and she inspires me to push myself to the next level. She has spent hours with my teaching me how to weave. 

Since then I have learned from Todd Devries and Joy Witzsche. I am very grateful for the time they spent teaching me. I am inspired by the cedar itself. The survival of my people depended on the cedar tree. I have love and respect for her and can learn from her if I remain open.

BB: Artists represent some of our most important culture-bearers, and it's important that they can make a living off of carrying the traditions to the future generations. What are 
your goals as an artist?
AB: My goals as an artist are to be fully self-supporting. I want to make a good living off of my art. I am currently apprenticing with a Master Haida carver, Jay Simeon, learning Haida formline and design. My goals are to become a Master weaver and carver and travel the world sharing my art.

Click here to see more of her work and to shop her collection.