TJ Young, traditional name Sgwaayaans, first learned carving as a young teenager when his grandfather demonstrated the proper way to carve a functional halibut hook. The experience peaked Sgwaayaans’s interest and he yearned to learn more about his culture and heritage. Looking back, Young acknowledges his grandfather a major influence in his artistic development.
At 19, Sgwaayaans and his older brother carved their first totem pole for their grandfather’s 90th birthday to honor him and their grandmother who had already passed. Although the totem pole was only seven feet tall, their work effort resulted in a revitalization of carving totems within their community. A couple of years later their great uncle asked them to carve one for him, which then led to another request from their tribal Chief, who also commissioned a small totem.
Over time, Young and his brother evolved their art into carving larger totems for their Haida community in Hydaburg, Alaska. Their work includes a forty foot replica totem, a forty foot Eagle crest totem, two twenty-five foot totems and several totems for the Haida Cooperative Restoration project for whom they helped replicate all of the totem poles in Hydaburg Totem Park. Sgwaayaans willingly volunteers his carving time for his community and has received significant recognition for investing in his community and for mentoring apprentices. Beyond Hydaburg, Young’s totems are also found in galleries and private collections.
In his emerging art career, Sgwaayaans had the privilege of working with two esteemed carvers and apprenticed under distinguished Haida carver, Robert Davidson. Under this tutelage, TJ Young matured as an artist and learned to stretch his imagination, allowing him to delve deeper into his designs and find a balance in his carvings.
The NACF National Artist Fellowship will allow Young to set aside personal projects in order to lead efforts in completing two eighteen foot clan totem poles for a community house in his village. Young knows that such projects bring the community together, as everyone contributes—providing words of encouragement, offering a hand, sweeping up and removing wood chips, carrying the finished totem pole and pulling the ropes to raise it to its final location.
These projects unify and continue to help heal our community, as they are able to feel proud of what they all helped create.
~TJ Young, Sgwaayaans