Last September, a ten foot old growth cedar log arrived at Bowen Island Community School (BICS). Shaving by shaving, the log transformed: a slug, a raven, a salmon, creatures chosen by local students to represent the community, emerged on BICS’s new Welcome Pole, to be unveiled June 24.
Over the past eight months, island artist Simon Daniel James, also known as Winadzi, with more than 300 young student helpers, has carved the log, which was a gift from our Squamish host nation, into a welcome pole.
Winadzi conceived the idea of the pole as a gift to the school that symbolizes Bowen as a welcoming community. He was inspired both as a father of two BICS students and as an artist to volunteer to carve the legacy artwork that honours the spirit of the school, the community and to give students the opportunity to learn about carving.
Winadzi is a multi-media artist who has been carving for more than 30 years at home and abroad.
In order to support the gift of the carving, and to honour the artist, BICS fundraised more than $10,000 for the project, including $8,500 for the artist so that he could work with students both in the planning process as well as in the initial stages of carving.
BICS students not only contributed in helping carve the pole, taking turns over the eight months helping James shape the log, but selected the pole’s animals.
A raven, the trickster, represents the storytellers and artists of Bowen Island. A breaching killer whale represents our ecological health and the orcas that have returned to Howe Sound. A bear represents the animals and people who travel to and from the island. The bear is holding a salmon, a precious food source that represents the cycle of life and our relationships with nature and each other. The bear is standing on the roof of the community school: a shelter, and a place of education and where the community gathers. Under the roof a loyal and brave wolf wearing an RCMP hat represents service and our community’s first responders. An eagle representing teachers and education workers holds a book with an apple on the cover. And finally there’s an Ariolimax columbianus, a Pacific banana slug. It represents the unique spirit of Bowen Island and our desire to stay on the slow side.
The wolf, slug and eagle are depicted as three characters who collectively reflect the community of Bowen Island. They are all peering over the edge of a canoe, riding over the waters of Howe Sound either travelling to, from, or around Bowen Island... or the canoe can be seen as Bowen Island, depending on your interpretation of the artwork. The artist invites you to come up with your own interpretations and stories based on what you see in the welcome pole and its many characters.
Xwalactun, a carver of the Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) Nation, his family, as well as BICS students were part of a ceremony at the beginning of the project, and so it is fitting that they will all return for the unveiling ceremony and to see and celebrate the completed artwork June 24. Winadzi and his family are leading the unveiling ceremony and will be sharing song and dance. Special guests, members of the community, students and their families will also witness the unveiling of this legacy artwork.
The project has been highly collaborative and made possible thanks to the donation of the old growth cedar log from Squamish, the contribution of the concrete base and sculpture bracket, as well as staff support from West Vancouver Schools, generous funding from an ArtStarts grant to pay for the artist’s time working with the students, a Bowen Island Municipality Innovation grant, the West Vancouver Foundation Compelling Opportunities Fund, the BICS PAC (Parent Advisory Council), CSA (Community School Association), Bowen Building Centre and many community volunteers, as well as the vision and generosity of artist Simon Daniel James, Winadzi.
We are grateful for the many people and organizations that have supported this extraordinary project, born of one person’s vision and supported by many.
Every time I look at the Welcome Pole I will think of the over three hundred pairs of hands that helped to carve the Welcome Pole, and how we are all connected to our environment and to each other.