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Phil Nuytten.

Vancouver, Panorama Publications, c1982.
Distributed by Panorama Publications, 3732 West Broadway, Vancouver, B. C., V6R 2C1.
132pp, cloth, $35.00.
ISBN 0-919317-02-2.

Grades 11 and up.
Reviewed by Adele Case.

Volume 12 Number 3
1984 May

The art of the totem carver is celebrated in Phil Nuytten's sympathetic eulogy to three significant British Columbia artists who worked principally in wood. Charlie James, Ellen Neel, and Mungo Martin are traced individually, but even a cursory glance through The Totem Carvers reveals that Nuytten's goal was to give a historical perspective of the art of the Kwakiutl people. This he does, with notable success. No one who has visited Alert Bay could fail to be moved by the magnificent poles that guard gravesites overlooking the crescent-shaped bay on Cormorant Island, and yet these memorial poles are evanescent, at the mercy of wind, weather and natural deterioration. For cedar is not like granite, and totemic art now flourishes more enduringly in museums than in the natural setting, close to the animal spirits it seeks to evoke and portray.

Ellen Neel is the central, rather tragic figure in this book. Her grandfather was Charlie James, and Mungo Martin was James's stepson. Of the trio of famous carvers, Martin was the only one of solely Indian ancestry. The author was at an early age drawn into the extended family life of the Neels', and one wishes there had been more data on the later life of Ellen Neel, who died before she was fifty. Mungo Martin, probably the best known of the Kwakiutl carvers, is given the greatest coverage. His carving is his testament, and Nuytten gives us countless glimpses and anecdotes of the artist at work and at home. Martin's magnum opus was a magnificent pole presented by British Columbia to Queen Elizabeth. On this one-hundred foot totem, Martin depicted the crests of ten tribes, and gave the family stories of the Kwakiutl.

The book is rounded out with an appendix explaining Indian names, and another giving the genealogy of Neel, Martin, and James. For the sake of those who would wish to trace the many character references and by-way threads in the book, it is a pity there is no index. One might also lament the few colour plates, while at the same time applauding the author for including such an interesting array of black and white photographs. All the reproductions are clear, and well footnoted. This carefully researched book will be a treasure for all who have an interest in the artistic work of the Kwakiutl carvers.

Adele Case, Britannia S. S., Vancouver, BC.
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