Dogfish Woman: A Haida Ocean Story
Transformation is at the heart of Haida art and supernatural power. Supernatural beings and ancestors possessing special powers are often depicted with the attributes of two or more beings, indicating their ability to transcend ordinary limitations.
Dogfish Woman is another powerful figure in the pantheon of beings of the sea. The dogfish is a small variety of shark that inhabits the waters of Haida Gwaii. Dogfish Woman is a crest belonging to many of the Haida clans, and is related to a story of a woman ancestor who could transform herself into a dogfish. It is in this form that she enters into a whole other realm of experience, the undersea world.
The gills on her cheeks and her domed forehead identify her as a dogfish. The labret in her lower lip, made from inlaid abalone shell, distinguishes her as a high-ranking woman. Pectoral fins extend down from her elbows and a frog emerges from between her head and upswept tail. Sea lion whiskers and red flicker feathers are visible extending up from the headband. White ermine skins hang down the sides and back.
© 1998, CHIN. All Rights Reserved. (The Canadian Heritage Information Network)
The Jade Canoe
“Consistent with Haida tradition, the significance of the passengers is highly symbolic. The variety and interdependence of the canoe’s occupants represents the natural environment on which the ancient Haida relied for their very survival: the passengers are diverse, and not always in harmony, yet they must depend on one another to live. The fact that the cunning trickster, Raven, holds the steering oar is likely symbolic of nature’s unpredictability.”
from Wiki dictionairy
The Spirit of Haida Gwaii
by Bill Reid
Here we are at last, a long way from Haida Gwaii, not too sure where we are or where we’re going, still squabbling and vying for position in the boat, but somehow managing to appear to be heading in some direction; at least the paddles are together, and the man in the middle seems to have some vision of what is to come.
As for the rest, they are superficially more or less what they always were, symbols of another time when the Haidas, all ten thousand of them, knew they were the greatest of all nations.
The Bear, as he sits in the bow of the boat, broad back deflecting any unfamiliar, novel or interesting sensation, eyes firmly and forever fixed on the past, tries to believe that things are still as they were. The Bear Mother, being human, is looking over his shoulder into the future, concerned more with her children than with her legend. After all, they wandered in from another myth, the one about Good Bear and Bad Bear and how they changed, so she has to keep a sharp eye on them.
Next, doughtily paddling away, hardworking if not very imaginative, the compulsory Canadian content, big teeth and scaly tail, perfectly designed for cutting down trees and damming rivers.
And here she is, still the ranking woman of noble birth, yielding no place to the pretty Bear Mother. In spite of her great cheeks like monstrous scars, her headdress reflecting the pointed shape of the dogfish head, and her grotesque labret – in spite of all these, the most desirable and fascinating woman from myth-time. More magical than the Mouse Woman, as mysterious as the deep ocean waters which support the sleek, sinuous fish from whom she derives her power, Dogfish Woman stands aloof from the rest, the enormous concentration of her thoughts smouldering smoke dreams behind her inward-looking eyes.
Tucked away in the stern of the boat, still ruled by the same obsession to stay concealed in the night shadows and lightless caves and other pockets of darkness, in which she spends her immortality, the Mouse Woman lost her place among the other characters of her own myth, an important part of the Bear Mother story, and barely squeezed in at the opposite end of the boat, under the tail of the Raven. No human, beast or monster has yet seen her in the flesh, so she may or may not look like this.
Not so the Raven. There is no doubt what he looks like in this myth-image: exactly the same as he does in his multiple existences as the familiar carrion bird of the northern latitude of the earth. Of course he is the steersman. So, although the boat appears to be heading in a purposeful direction, it can arrive anywhere the Raven’s whim dictates.
A culture will be remembered for its warriors, artists, heroes and heroines of all callings, but in order to survive it needs survivors. And here is our professional survivor, the Ancient Reluctant Conscript, present if seldom noticed in all the turbulent histories of men on earth. When our latter-day kings and captains have joined their forebears, he will still be carrying on, stoically obeying orders and performing the tasks allotted to him. But only up to a point. It is also he who finally says, “Enough!” And after the rulers have disappeared into the morass of their own excesses, it is he who builds on the rubble and once more gets the whole thing going.
The Wolf of the Haidas was a completely imaginary creature, perhaps existing over there on the mainland, but never seen on Haida Gwaii. Nevertheless, he was an important figure in the crest hierarchy. Troublesome, volatile, ferociously playful, he can usually be found with his sharp fangs embedded in someone’s anatomy. Here he is vigorously chewing on the Eagle’s wing while that proud, imperial, somewhat pompous bird retaliates by attacking the Bear’s paws.
That accounts for everybody except the Frog who sits partially in and partially out of the boat and above the gunwales: the ever-present intermediary between two of the worlds of the Haidas, the land the sea.
So there is certainly no lack of activity in our little boat, but is there any purpose? Is the tall figure who may or may not be the Spirit of Haida Gwaii leading us, for we are all in the same boat, to a sheltered beach beyond the rim of the world as he seems to be, or is he lost in a dream of his own dreamings? The boat moves on, forever anchored in the same place.
When I began working with glass in 1982, I had no idea that I’d be so connected to the material in the way that I am. It was only when I began to experiment with using designs from my Tlingit cultural heritage that my work began to take on a new purpose and direction.
Over time, my skill with the material of glass and traditional form line design has strengthened and evolved, allowing me to explore more fully my own relationship to both my culture and chosen medium. This evolution, and subsequent commercial success, has positioned me as an influence on contemporary indigenous art
Through teaching and collaborating in glass with other Native American, Maori, Hawaiian, and Australian Aboriginal artists, I’ve come to see that glass brings another dimension to indigenous art. The artistic perspective of indigenous people reflects a unique and vital visual language which has connections to the ancient codes and symbols of the land, and this interaction has informed and inspired my own work.
My work with glass transforms the notion that Native artists are only best when traditional materials are used. It has helped advocate on the behalf of all indigenous people—affirming that we are still here—that that we are declaring who we are through our art in connection to
My work continues to evolve and connect my personal cultural perspective to current modern art movements, and I have received much attention for striving to keep the work fresh and relevant. I have been honored that my success has inspired other artists from underrepresented indigenous cultures to use glass and other non-traditional materials in their work, and hope that I can continue to encourage more innovation in this area as my career progresses.
Preston was born in San Francisco, California, in 1963. In 1984, he began his studies at the prestigious Pilchuck Glass school in Stanwood, Washington. Today, he remains connected to the school as both a sessional instructor and a board member, while pursing his own very successful career as an artist. Pilchuck has always fostered a milieu open to new ideas that has drawn many of the most promising students, as well as established working glass-artists, to the Pacific Northwest Coast.
Preston had more than a decade of experience working on the teams for various master glass-artists before he began to make works that combined his own Tlingit heritage and traditional objects with blown glass. He has occupied a unique position as an aboriginal artist who trained solely in glass. He has traveled extensively to study international glass techniques, including visits to Sweden and Finland. He is considered the bridge-artist between glass-blowing and Northwest Coast art, which are the two dominant art forms of the Pacific Northwest. He has worked with many other aboriginal artists now interested in the glass medium and who have recognized the potential of the glass medium as a possible new direction.
The Pilchuck Glass School has been most supportive in fostering outreach programs to include aboriginal artists wishing to learn about this exciting media—and has offered many Artist in Residency Programs to broaden the scope of the students.
Today, his work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, and is included in such collections as the Seattle Art Museum, the new National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian Institution, and the Museum of History and Art in Anchorage. His solo-exhibition Preston Singletary: Echoes, Fire, and Shadows was unveiled at the Tacoma Museum of Glass in 2009 and is currently touring to major institutions across North America. This collection is documented in a book by the same name and is published in the United States by the Tacoma Museum of Glass and in Canada by Douglas & McIntyre Publishers.
©2011 Spirit Wrestler Gallery
Paul is a poet and a tireless advocate for Cascadia. He has written a description of what he calls “Organic” poetry and shows its refractions and its heritage in a poetic flow of references. Paul’s focus is on the west coast and talks about how it is influenced more by the east than the west, as Rexroth advocated. – rlw
Organic in Cascadia: A Sequence of Energies
A presentation for UW Bothell Convergence on Poetics, September 30, 2012
Use of term Organic, stems from its use in the early 60s correspondence of Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov. I use it interchangeably with Projective and use it because of the implications to/affinities with a shift in models from the materialistic (reductionist) to the organismic. Cascadia is this bioregion.
Jewel Net of Indra
The theory that would serve as the philosophical underpinning of this approach is Whitehead’s Process Philosophy, though Hua-yen Buddhism (exemplified by The Jewel Net of Indra) also works well, as do many aspects of indigenous thought and cosmology.
That theory would have occasions of experience as the foundation of its explanation of how reality works. The poem is an occasion of experience, linked to past occasions and influencing future occasions. In the Hua-yen view, future occasions influence the present. This suggests field theory, as used in quantum physics (WCW and Olson alluded to this) and to the work of people like Rupert Sheldrake. It also has parallels to animism and other modes of indigenous thought.
I came across an old essay by Sunn Shelley Wong, her Masters Thesis, done at Simon Fraser University. Robin Blaser, Roy Miki and Peter Quartermain served on her graduate committee. It had this great line: At every moment in a life or in a poem, the formal choice is between answering to that which is alive, or attempting to enslave it.
Organic predecessors include Whitman, Williams, Olson and those already mentioned. The title of this presentation is a nod to a Robin Blaser line in the forward to The Holy Forest, his life-long serial poem about the serial poem itself. The inherent spirituality suggested in different ways by these poets is critical to an understanding of what I see as the best way forward to make the poem, in Olson’s words, a high-energy construct. Humility, generosity and an ongoing sense of revelation (Oppen called for Noopoeia) are some qualities of such a poetry. Who’s Cascadia’s Lorine Niedecker? How translate power of mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, beaches &c into a high-energy construct?
Whitman’s Do I contradict myself notion (I am large, I contain multitudes) is a wonderful prophecy for such a poetics: multiple individuals
contending with multiple individual agents of consciousness operant in mind. (& Mind being understood as non-local.)
Williams use of the imagination (especially in Spring & All) as the entity engaged in such a practice of outside. Only the imagination is undeceived… the imagination freed from the handcuffs of ,, ,, art “ “ takes the lead… the inevitable flux of the seeing eye toward measuring itself by the world it inhabits can only result in himself crushing humiliation unless the individual raise to some approximate co-extension with the universe. This is possible by aid of the imagination. Only through the agency of this force can a man feel himself moved largely with the sympathetic pulses at work.
Of note: Olson referring to the single intelligence and the stance toward reality he implies (organismic) his recognition of the energetic force of humility and his likening of poetry that does not evoke that force – to sprawl. When most think of that word, sprawl, the word suburban usually goes before it, no offense to our Bothell hosts.
The Spicer/Blaser notion of the practice of outside and how Blaser’s practice could be described as a new way of entering the holiness of the everyday. (Charles Bernstein.)
Bowering tells kids to “get out of my field!”
It is clear to me a way forward IS that approach, the serial poem, and key practitioners for me are Blaser, Nate Mackey, Michael McClure, Jose Kozer, George Stanley and George Bowering. It is no accident that all but one of these are West Coast writers, two of the five are in the region some call Cascadia, one of the rest with formative years spent here. The serial poem, as it unveils the sequences of moments, the trail of entelechy. Not so much as transcendence as much as it is intensification of the moment. Mackey: Serial form lends itself to andoumboulous liminality, the draft unassured extension knows itself to be. Provisional, ongoing … moving forward and backward both, repeatedly…
If the organismic is closer to what reality is than other methods (and this can be contested, but it’s my suspicion) than the serial poem, a life-long dedication to the poem as revelation of content (Levertov) seems to me to be its highest manifestation in poetry.
Cascadia’s proximity to Asia and its debt to Asian wisdom cultures moreso than European ones (as Rexroth knew about the West Coast 70 years ago) along with the notion that indigenous cultures here were not totally obliterated (Coastal Salish art as one example, described as the most celebrated art from any of the world’s hunter/gatherer cultures) suggest that the field here is fertile for such a gesture which builds on what these poets have done.