This video clip is from a documentary-project-in-progress, The Raven & The Dove. It introduces James Hart’s unprecedented collaboration with Yosef Wosk to make a “Haida Meets Judaism” cedar carving. It’s a companion piece to Hart’s massive ‘screen’ carving made for Michael Audain and now featured at the entrance to the Audain Art Museum in Whistler, B.C.

Yosef Wosk is now co-designing’s a major work by the foremost contemporary Haida artist James Hart, a chief of the Eagle clan in Masset. Fours years in the making so far, their Haida “screen” or “Moses Wall” amalgamates the story of Moses and the twelve tribes of Israel with the traditional iconography and tribal legends of the Haida. Six carvers, including Hart’s son Gwaliga [below], are employed under Hart’s direction to assist him in the creation of this enormous, cross-cultural experiment.

Gwaliga Hart

Gwaliga Hart, James Hart’ son, at work at the Hart’s seaside workshed in Old Massett, Haida Gwaii. [Twigg photo]

The new work will be slightly larger than a preceding work that James Hart created as a commission for Yosef’s friend Michael Audain. That immense work began as a commission for a plaque-sized carving for the cabin belonging to Audain and his partner Yoshiko Karasawa. Unveiled in 2018, that impressive work now welcomes visitors at the entrance to the Audain Art Museum in Whistler, B.C. Its measurements are 4.75 m (15 ft) by 3.2 m (12 ft). According to the museum, “The Dance Screen (The Scream Too) depicts many traditional Haida beings and emphasizes the fundamental role of the salmon within Haida society and ecosystems. Many of the figures are shown speaking or calling out, acknowledging concern for the salmon who are threatened by environmental factors. Both a barrier and a doorway, the work declares the existence of both the spirit realm and the human realm. When danced, the screen allows for a transition between these two realms.” At an inaugural ceremonial event, the spirits were represented by masked dancers who emerged through the doorway, performed and then returned to the spirit world. With the work’s unusual title, Hart is acknowledging an artistic kinship with Edvard Munch’s iconic painting The Scream.

the Dance Screen

Haida wall entitled “The Dance Screen (The Scream Too) and its chief sponsor Michael Audain. [Audain Museum]

This website will document the process of creation that will lead to the public unveiling of the yet-to-be named “Moses’ Wall,” most likely at the UBC Museum of Anthropology. Unprecedented due to its cross-cultural melding of tribal stories from the equally venerable Judaic and Haida perspectives, the aforementioned work-in-progress will undoubtedly generate international attention for its chief carver, Chief James Hart, who is undertaking this work at the pinnacle of his career.

For a Globe & Mail article by Kerry Gold that appeared in October of 2022, Hart noted that one of the major difficulties to be overcome was finding a red cedar that could be used for the centre section of an 18-feet-wide and 13-feet-high (at its highest point) installation. In order to generate this hybrid work of Haida and Hebrew iconography, Hart also had to ensure this work remained true to his own cultural roots. “Every piece I put on there has to mean something to me and our people,” he said in a phone interview with Gold. “So every figure has a double meaning, for Jewish folks, too. … I married the ideas together. It’s pretty cool. I’ve got family members in there, like the warrior for the Jewish folks. I put one of my uncles in there, because that’s what he was like in his life. So it has that double meaning going on. It makes me reflect on us, and makes me dig deeper into our ways, to figure it out more. … It was wonderful. I’m calling it ‘Yosef’s Great Wall.’”


Carving Plan
Yosef Wosk and James Hart
Yosef Wosk and James Hart

                      [Photos by Twigg]


Project development 1-4

Photos by Raven


Born in 1952 into the Eagle Clan in Old Masset at the northern end of Haida Gwaii, James (Jim) Hart had a First Nations mother, Joan Hart, and a “European” father. As a member of the Delkatla community, Jim Hart is now a world-renowned master carver, goldsmith, bronzesmith, silversmith and painter who has been a Chief of the Eagle Clan since 1999 when he received the hereditary title of his great-great-grandfather, Charles Edenshaw (c. 1839-1920) or 7idansuu (pronounced “ee-dan-soo”), sometimes dubbed by outsiders as the “Michelangelo” of Haida art. To mark the succession, Jim Hart held a potlatch and raised a 55-foot totem pole in Old Masset. His maternal uncle, Morris White, who died in 1997, was also a carver and canoe-maker who lived in Old Masset.

As a child, Jim Hart was spared the privations of the residential school system in British Columbia because his father was Anglo-Canadian (there were no residential schools on Haida Gwaii). He grew up with his grandparents and gained an interest in Haida art while attending his local high school. He first worked as a fisherman and became an apprentice for Robert Davidson in 1978 when Davidson was creating the Charles Edenshaw Memorial Longhouse in Masset. His uncle Claude Davidson also asked him to paint eagle and raven crest figures for his home and art gallery in Old Masset.

In 1979, Hart was commissioned by the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria to carve a 7-foot x 9-foot cedar Dogfish Screen. While steeped in the traditions of his people, very familiar with Haida history as it is conveyed by oral stories, Hart has nonetheless not felt constrained by conventions. As an innovator, in 1982, he was the first First Nations artist in British Columbia to complete a bronze sculpture of a totem pole. (He has since imported and incorporated abalone shells from New Zealand to decorate his work and eventually accepted a commission from the Vancouver Canucks to carve “Haida statues” to represent players in a Canucks uniform.)

Jim Hart first started working for Bill Reid in 1980 and proceeded to work on some of Reid’s most important sculptures, as well as smaller works, in Vancouver until 1984, during a period when Reid was afflicted with Parkinson’s disease and was unable to undertake most of his own carving. Specifically, Hart helped complete Reid’s world-acclaimed masterworks, The Raven and the First Man (Museum of Anthropology, UBC) and his 20-foot-long, five-ton Spirit of Haida Gwaii/The Jade Canoe. Depicting thirteen passengers in a canoe, the first casting of Jade Canoe wasn’t finished until 1991 and was erected outside the Canadian embassy in Washington, D.C. as ‘The Black Canoe.’ In 1994, a second ‘Jade Canoe’ was first housed in the Canadian Museum of History before it was relocated to its present location at Vancouver International Airport in 1996. Its green patina is meant to mimic B.C.’s official gemstone, jade.

Bill Reid's Canoe at YVR

Bill Reid’s Canoe at Vancouver International Airport

Hart credits Reid for his protection and guidance when, as a young man, he had to quickly learn to adapt to urban life in Vancouver in extreme contrast to his upbringing in Masset. Hart frequently recalls coming to Vancouver and being unable to ride an elevator. He simply had never encountered one before and didn’t know how it worked.

After four years of tutelage under Bill Reid, Hart understood that Reid’s presence was so strong it would be necessary for him to learn how to function with complete independence if he could ever hope to develop his own unique style and ideas. In 1988, Hart oversaw the installation of the Haida house at Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa. Along with Haida carver Reg Davidson, Jim Hart co-authored one catalogue book, Haida Artifacts: An Exhibition (1990), published by the Lowie Museum of Anthropology in Berkeley, California.

It is not always easy to trace the evolution of Hart’s major works because they can take more than a decade to reach a permanent home. Perhaps most significantly he has dared to generate his own Haida-inspired art-form–a stand-alone cedar wall or “screen,” formidable and astonishing by virtue of both size and originality. From 2012 to 2014, Hart worked on The Dance Screen (The Scream Too), an 11-foot x 16-foot work that was completed on the fourth floor of the Vancouver Art Gallery. Since 2018, it has been permanently housed at the Audain Museum. Conceived back in 2009, The Dance Screen was first installed as a temporary exhibit in the Vancouver Art Gallery. For this work, Hart took three years to salvage red cedar from Haida Gwaii wildfires. Hart then worked for fifteen months with his assistants, John Brent Bennett, Brandon Brown, Carl Hart and Leon Ridley, including a five-week stint at the Bill Reid Gallery in the summer of 2012 enabling visitors to watch him working with his crew.

The Dance Screen (The Scream Too) has since been accorded pride of place as arguably the most striking work in the permanent collection of the Audain Art Museum in Whistler, British Columbia. The work was instigated as a much smaller, private commission when Michael Audain asked Hart to carve a plaque that would hang on the wall of his cottage in Pender Harbour. Hart was inspired to keep expanding this commission until it went far beyond the bounds of its initial conception.

One hundred guests at the Whistler Museum, named for its founder and chief benefactor, attended a one-hour, inaugural dance performance for the work by Hart and his troupe of Haida dancers on September 22, 2018. Dancers wore ceremonial regalia that now belongs to the National Gallery of Canada. About halfway through the performance Hart asked Audain to come forth from the audience and be honoured with a song. “It comes from one of my old grandfathers who just about drowned,” Hart said, “and people composed a song for him because they realized, if he drowned, how sad they’d all be, because he did so much work for the people. So this song means, ‘Where would we be today if it wasn’t for you?’” Hart then adorned Audain in an eagle mask, covering him with a blanket and bringing him into the dance.

Both a barrier and a doorway, this imposing stand-alone wooden work (or wall) emphasizes the role of the salmon within Haida society and ecosystems. The carvings depict an eagle, a bear, orcas, a raven and human figures all rimmed by swimming salmon, adorned with glimmering turquoise shell tails. “The screen says to me, all of us, whether we have two feet or four, whether we have hair, scales, fur or feathers, we’re all related to one another in one way or another in the great cycle of birth, life and death,” Michael Audain said after the ceremony. “Therefore, it’s surely incumbent on us to treat each other with mutual respect.” Jim Hart has reiterated: “The salmon has taken care of us for thousands of years and it’s up to us to take care of them.”

Here, James Hart describes his thought processes in the early development of this astonishing work for The Dance Screen (The Scream Too), the precursor to the “Moses’ Wall”.

To watch the full 46 minute video, here is the link:

Hart’s art also includes gold, silver and bronze jewelry, and fabrics. He has built numerous Haida houses, given three potlatches and been actively involved in many others. Much of his artwork is in private and public collections worldwide. Here is a brief summary:

In 1979, he was commissioned by the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria to carve a 7-ft. by 9-ft cedar Dogfish Screen.

His 1995 wood sculpture, Frog Constellation, was eventually installed on the campus of Simon Fraser University in 2012, depicting two human figures on the back of a giant frog—his own equivalent of a doctoral thesis.

In 2000, he carved the replacement to a Bill Reid pole within the Haida Village behind the Museum of Anthropology.

In 2003, he initially installed The Three Watchmen as a 14-foot bronze sculpture at the entrance to an apartment residence in Kerrisdale’s Quilchena Park in Vancouver. It depicts traditional watchmen figures who guard Haida from dangers, both physical and spiritual. At the time it was his largest work beyond totems, and a career milestone. This experimental, ground-breaking work was commissioned by Polygon Homes Ltd., a condominium housing developer in the Lower Mainland under the direction of Michael Audain. In 2011, this bronze megalith was installed outside the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa as part of their permanent collection.

In 2008, he carved the Respect to Bill Reid Pole now located in The Bill Reid Gallery in Vancouver.

In 2016, Hart and his son Gwaliga worked together finalizing the patina and paint on another bronzed Yellow Cedar Pole, supervising the casting at the Tallix Art Foundry in Beacon, New York, after two years of work.

On April 1, 2017, Jim Hart raised his 55-foot Reconciliation Pole at UBC’s Main Mall (between Agronomy Road and Thunderbird Boulevard) on traditional Musqueam territory to honour all those who died in Canada’s Indian Residential Schools. Many of Hart’s relatives–including his grandfather, great aunts and uncles–were sent to the Coqualeetza Residential School in Chilliwack. Hart grew up with an understanding that many died as a result, or many were never able to overcome their trauma. Commissioned by UBC and the Audain Foundation, the pole depicts a Coqualeetza student without any feet, unable to run escape. The work was carved from an 800-year-old red cedar log (ts’uu) over a two-year period.

“We’re here today, we’re still here, and we want to go forward,” Jim Hart told Georgia Straight. “This pole is about understanding what has taken place, and the depth of all of that, because you can’t smooth the edges on it.” His fellow Haida carvers included John Brent Bennett, Brandon Brown, Jaalen Edenshaw, Derek White, Leon Ridley and Hart’s late son, Carl (who died in 2015). At the base are a co-existing canoe and a longboat, side by side; the former represents all First Nations with different styles of paddles and the latter represents all other Canadians. The work now compliments UBC’s Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre which opened in April of 2018.

By 2017, Jim Hunt had carved more than 25 Haida totems. While maintaining a home in Vancouver, he mainly resides in Old Masset where he belongs to the Hereditary Chiefs Council of the Haida Nation. He received the Order of British Columbia in 2003 and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2013. He has honorary doctorates from Emily Carr University of Art and Design and from Simon Fraser University (2017). — A.T.


James Hart at Work

James Hart at work.