Mentor Artist Fellow Update: Carving and Making Connections in Oregon

As the Native Arts and Cultures pilot Mentor Artist Fellowship approaches its six-month mark, we’d like to update our followers on the progress of our 2017 cohort, twelve traditional or contemporary visual artists who are sharing their knowledge as mentors, in a rigorous twelve-month Fellowship with their chosen apprentice(s).

In Oregon, Mentor Artist Fellow and accomplished wood carver Shirod Younker (Coquille, Coos) has impressed us by taking on not just one, but four apprentices which who he works for four hours every Wednesday (and the occasional Tuesdays) at the Oregon College of Art and Craft in Portland, Ore. His apprentices include:

2017 Mentor Artist Fellow Shirod Younker (Coquille, Coos) and Kaila Farrell-Smitth (Klamath, Modoc) firing a paddle, December 2017 in Portland, Ore.
2017 Mentor Artist Fellow Shirod Younker (Coquille, Coos) and Kaila Farrell-Smitth (Klamath, Modoc) firing a paddle, December 2017 in Portland, Ore.
    • Kaila Farrell-Smith (Klamath, Modoc)
    • Kunu Bearchum Dittmer (Northern Cheyenne, Tewa)
    • Toby Linwood (Okanagan/Penobscot)
    • Ezra Albert (Hopi)

Additionally, Shirod works long-distance with a fifth apprentice – Heidi Helms (Coos).  Located in Eugene, Ore., Heidi has been a key link to the Coos community, generating more interest in traditional carving techniques. Shirod and Heidi have also been spending time with Jerome Viles (Siletz), a language scholar and cultural researcher currently studying the John Peabody Harrington Collection at the Smithsonian Instititution’s Museum of Natural History (among many things, this collection documents over 130 endangered tribal languages). Strengthening the connections with Oregon tribes was a major goal Shirod set for his Mentor Artist Fellowship year, and we look forward to hearing more in the coming six months about what opportunities Heidi and Jerome’s participation may bring.

In terms of project progress, the apprentices found the metal work of forging their carving knives more challenging than expected, and so Shirod decided to shift to carving paddles with tools he provided, leaving the metal work for later. In terms of paddle carving, Kaila, Heidi and Toby are close to being finished, although the final touches take the longest. Kunu is 50% complete, and Ezra is about 75% complete. On the evening that Native Arts and Cultures Foundation staff Laura Cales and Rupert Ayton visited  – December 13, 2017 – Kaila and Heidi both made significant progress on making their own knives with final bending and heat treatment their last steps.

In addition to the dedication of his time and knowledge through the work of mentoring, Shirod is using his time as a Fellow to think about sustainably expanding Oregon’s network of traditional carvers. He is currently scouting for partners in Eugene, Ore. to provide studio space in which Heidi may start teaching carving. The goal of all the apprentices is to pass on what they have learned to another cohort, and thus expand the population of carvers.

We here at the NACF hope to share some photos of the finished paddles in early 2018, and to hear more about how they will be gifted.