Location: Hazelton

Arlene Ness Explores Art Through Culture

Arlene Ness Explores Art Through Culture

Our destination for today was the Gitanmaax Reserve in Hazelton, B.C. where we were meeting with Gitxsan First Nations multi-medium artist Arlene Ness. Driving into this scenic area we were struck by the imposing mountains and lush forests with their breathtaking, resplendent autumn colours! It was easy to avert my eyes occasionally to glance up at them, if only for a second. Suddenly, flashing lights in our rear view mirror suggested we were now getting a police escort by the friendly RCMP of this quaint village; we didn’t even know they were aware of our arrival! As I snapped out of it I realized that I had missed a school sign during one of those brief sight-seeing moments, and the police officer’s intention was not one of fanfare. Luckily he gave me a warning and sent us on our way. Without further delay, but well within the posted speed limit, we were once again on our way to Arlene’s place to get to know this diversified and prolific fine artist.

Arlene in front of her Grizzly stained glass

Arlene in front of her Grizzly stained glass

Arlene says that she has been creating art in various mediums ever since she was a child. From following her mother’s and sisters’ examples, to loving high school art classes, to seeking expertise and education from renowned teachers, to undeniably her own drive and initiative, Arlene has never shied away from pursuing art forms that intrigued her. Life inspires Arlene, and depending on what peaks her interest be it her mood, the seasons, her family or nature, she may indulge her creativity in carving masks, stained glass, jewellery, paintings and drawings. She has even undertaken the enormous task of carving totem poles under the tutelage of master carver Earl Muldon. How does one person manage to spread her creative energy around to all of these disciplines and excel at them, on top of raising four children and teaching First Nations fine art at the community college? From what I observed of Arlene she has this zen-like calm about her and knows how to set boundaries and balance her life so all aspects work in harmony. With her art, she doesn’t try to force her creativity in any one direction, but rather she takes guidance from her environment, embraces how she feels and lets it come to her. She is the proverbial water flowing around the rocks.

Hummingbird Dreams

Hummingbird Dreams

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The beauty of Arlene’s fine art transcends all cultural boundaries. Her style reflects the traditional Northwest Coast Native Art form lines which she maintains strict adherence to when working on art forms of the crests and symbols of other clans. When working on her own family’s crest and symbols she allows herself more freedom to include her own contemporary designs and interpretations. She is of the Giskaast clan; the traditions, stories and ancestral knowledge being very important to her, and it is her desire to pass down that knowledge to future generations. Her art work is an expression of herself, her culture and of the love she has for her natural surroundings and all its inhabitants. Seeing one of Arlene’s beautifully carved masks, for instance, invokes curiosity about the meaning behind it, and one does not have to be of Gitxsan ancestry to appreciate the story it tells or marvel at the craftsmanship. Though the oral history of each clan (adaawx) that is shared with succeeding generations is of primary cultural importance to the clan itself, the art that Arlene creates is the physical heirloom of her ancestry but is there for all of us to appreciate and enjoy.

Learn more about Arlene and her art as Corinne chats with her. Feel free to comment below and share on social media.

The story of Copperhaired Woman in "The Return" above can be found on Arlene's website

“The Return”


The story of Copperhaired Woman in “The Return” can be found on Arlene’s website

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