My name is Jim Bergeron. I am a woodcarver who works in the tradition of the Northwest Coast Native Americans. I have been interested in the way Native Americans did things from an early age. During the 1960s I moved from Minnesota to Oregon to attend Graduate School, I became fascinated with the artwork and technology of the Coastal Indians. After a long winter in Alaska during which I took a class in woodcarving I attempted to learn as much about these subjects as I could. The Alaska class was taught in Kodiak, outside the true Northwest Coast tradition, so what I learned was similar to but not authentic Northwest Coast Indian Art. To learn the principals I have taken classes and compiled about 250 books on the subject. I have also carved using the materials and tools they used. I do not copy their art but have learned the rules they developed and follow them to design my own works. I must often make my own tools as they are not easy to purchase. Many of the materials come from my 23 woodland acres near Astoria, Oregon.
While I use the traditional tools such as the crooked knife, the shaping adz and the texturing adz I also use modern tools such as the band saw, the router and the chain saw. I have books showing modern Native Americans using such tools. In any case the art and technology was always evolving and the best materials and tools were always quickly adopted by Native American artists when they became available. In fact there was a blooming of West Coast culture after the arrival of the Europeans and their goods, which later collapsed due to cultural clashes and disease.
While the techniques I learned in Kodiak utilized some of the principals of N. W. Coast art, such as using the straight knife for inletting I had to seek out others people to learn about such tools as the adzes and crooked knives. I visited Douglas Granum in his studio in Seattle where he showed me some of his tools and how to use them. I also discussed possible visits to Astoria in the future. Later that year he came to Astoria and we did a workshop on Techniques and Tools of Northwest Coast art through Clatsop Community College. While there he helped me construct a shaping adz.
The next summer he began the series of classes through Portland State University taught at Cannon Beach. The first class I attended I did a Nu Chal Nulth style Tsonoka mask and started another in the Kwakiutal style which I finished during the following winter. In later classes I finished or worked on a one figure totem pole, a bent wood box, a supernatural Raven mask, and a human-shark mask.
Among the things a practitioner of Northwest Coast Art should know besides the tools and how to keep them sharp are the woods and other materials and how they can be used. The characterists of red cedar, Alaska cedar, alder, cascara, vine maple and cherry are important to know as well as the limitations of each. It would not do to try to carve a finely detailed piece from red cedar for instance. It is also important to know that most wood carves better green but care must be taken during carving and in the drying. Objects carved from green wood must be dried from the inside out to prevent cracking and they must achieve a certain thinness. Also the fine detail is best added after some drying and finishes must not be used until most drying has taken place.
Besides the woods there are the other materials taken from the forest that are needed. These include bark from red cedar and cherry, roots from cedar and spruce. The treatment of animal hides can easily be done at least to the useable rawhide stage, which is needed for drums.
Another need is knowledge of sources for the products needed for the art. If you are not a landowner in the Pacific Northwest there are sources for many of the materials needed, often with the necessary processing already done
If money is a concern, as it is for most artists there are many sources for tools, and materials, some rather unorthodox, that can be very rewarding. Short carving knives can, for instance be made from the Victorinx net knives that are worn out by net shops and cast aside. I shorten the blade and reshape them into carving knives. The thin steel of the blade allows a deep cut into wood with much less force than more expensive carving knives. The steel is also superior to many art knives, as it has to be to cut the sand impregnated nets.
There are catalogues that have materials needed for Indian Art. One of my favorites is Bond’s Indian Supply, LLC. It has shells, feathers, leather and rawhide from many animals, beads, drum frames, tools, and DVDS of music from various tribes. Their Web address is http://www.bondsindiansupply.com/
Other catalogues include Woodcraft and Redhead for woodworking tools and Blick Studio for art materials.
I have or have access to many of the materials needed to create Northwest Coast art objects. Since I have twenty acres of forest I can get such things as wood and other plant materials from my own property or from neighbors. I have alder, spruce, cascara, crabapple, cherry and cedar growing on my land. I purchased 9,000 board feet of old growth red cedar and had it cut for such things as bent boxes. A pickup load of yew was purchased some years ago from those who were peeling bark for medicine. Cedar bark is easily obtained from neighboring timber sales during the spring.
Animal products such as rawhide and bone are a result of local hunters of elk and deer. I know trappers that take beaver, otter, mink, and other animals during the proper seasons. Those things I cannot get nearby I purchase from Jim Bond Inc., a supplier of Indian art materials,
For sale or trade: