Local Indigenous artist
By Andrea Arnold
McBride resident Bob Mitchell heads to his small basement workshop for a few hours each day to work on his creations. The space is filled with tools, knife sharpening equipment, paint and books. As he begins work, he puts a smudge of sage, juniper or cedar on, turns on music, and then begins to whittle.
Mitchell creates carvings and other forms of indigenous art. Mitchell, or by his Indigenous name, Sqwey’its, is a part of the Xaxli’p Fountain Band from the Stl’atl’imx territory in the Lillooet area.
“My carving inspiration comes from other Indigenous artists,” said Mitchell. “Bands in the interior didn’t do carving.”
He first learned the skill while attending residential school in Kamloops. In the early years of high school, he had a teacher from the coast, and they first created totem poles.
Mostly, his carvings are of different types of birds. He has carved some fish as well as made walking sticks, talking sticks and clubs.
Mitchell uses a small scroll saw to cut out the main shapes and then carves the details by hand. He wears a protective glove on his non-dominant hand that does not prevent pokes, but does keep him from cutting himself if he slips.
He uses cedar with good grain and no knots. He has even been able to work with yellow cedar on occasion.
“Cedar is a soft wood, and clear is best,” he said. “I have to work with the grain. I can’t fight it.”
Mitchell even uses the bark for some of the bird’s headdresses.
Completed pieces are then treated with either paint or stain before Mitchell advertises them through various Facebook Buy and Sell pages.
Mitchell worked in the forest industry until April 30, 2019. He had been carving a bit prior to retirement, but since then, he has put a bit more time into his art. Health reasons also caused him to retire from curling and playing hockey. He turned to carving as something to do with his time. However, due to the detailed work and careful handling, he has to limit himself to a few hours at a time. His hands cramp up after too long and mistakes as well as injury become more frequent.
“I do it as a hobby, not to make a living,” he said.
Some of his carvings are quite large. He recently sold a wolf mask that was about two feet long and has created a raven that was equally as large. The smaller pieces take several weeks, and the large ones can take months.
Another skill Mitchell learned at school was beadwork. He has created a hatband and several other smaller projects.
Mitchell hasn’t had any completely custom carving orders as of yet, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t take one on. He has had requests to create a second item to match an existing one. He has had some custom beadwork requests.
Mitchell’s work can be seen at local craft fairs as well as on McBride, Valemount, Prince George, Lillooet and Native Facebook Buy and Sell pages. Shipping is included in the costs listed.