An internationally renowned Squaxin Island carver led a bentwood-box workshop over the weekend as part of a series of classes and activities in preparation for this summer's Tribal Canoe Journey 2012.

Share story

OLYMPIA — There were sharp tools, cedar shavings and steaming pans of water.

And there were plenty of stories — including ones about beloved grandmas and favorite pets, and life before indoor plumbing and the Internet. After all, memories and artwork always become one in Andrea Wilbur-Sigo’s home studio near Shelton, Mason County.

The internationally renowned Squaxin Island carver led a bentwood-box workshop over the weekend as part of a series of classes and activities in preparation for this summer’s Tribal Canoe Journey 2012.

The handmade boxes will be given away during a potlatch ceremony hosted by the Squaxin Island Tribe. More than 100 canoes are expected to land at the Port of Olympia beginning July 29. Potlatch protocol is scheduled July 30 to Aug. 5 on the Squaxin Island reservation near Shelton.

“There will be thousands of gifts — we’re just doing part of it,” Wilbur-Sigo said. “We make sure everybody is gifted so they’ll remember the day.”

The workshop was funded with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The Squaxin Island Tribe and The Evergreen State College Longhouse Education and Cultural Center received the $100,000 grant, intended to increase the number of Squaxin artists, expand indigenous-artist networks, and increase art appreciation, cultural tourism and economic development.

In preparation for Canoe Journey, numerous tribal-art workshops are being held to teach traditional forms of weaving, printmaking and other Salish arts.

Wilbur-Sigo comes from seven generations of carvers, and she’s one of only a few women who practice the art.

During the workshop, participants carved notches, steamed, pegged, sanded and painted designs on the boxes.

“The techniques are simple, but they’re complicated in execution,” said Meleno Lovato, 68, of Yelm, Thurston County, who attended the workshop. “You’ve got to be just right or it doesn’t work.”

The event drew participants whose ages ranged from 8 to 92. Wilbur-Sigo said she hopes they’ll want to continue because few people make Coast Salish bentwood boxes by hand.