Michael Antoine has returned to his roots and his art.
“I was so busy for so many years with my daytime jobs – I worked as a roofer, carpenter and landscaper. And when I got home at the end of the day I was just too tired, physically, to get to my art,” he said. “For a long time, I left it alone. Now I have found time to come back to it.”
Antoine was one of the First Nations artisans at Aboriginal Days held at CNC’s Gathering Place on Wednesday.
He facilitated a workshop during the two-day event, teaching the basics of northwest coastal native art.
Arranged on a table there were exquisite examples of his work, pieces carved from birch in the shape of an eagle, otter, halibut, humming bird and loon and painted in traditional West Coast First Nations colours, red and black. A larger piece entitled Eagle Sun draws admirers from across the room.
Antoine completed his first painting during high school and he later apprenticed under master carver Ron Sebastian of Hazelton, B.C.
“I was taught to use just two colours (red and black) or three colours at most, but when I am instructing people in native art, they often want to use other colours so I let them try that,” he says. “In some of my carvings (such as in two small wooden boxes), I used turquoise.”
Antoine’s artwork has sold and been shown all over British Columbia, the U.S., Great Britain and Germany. In his artist’s statement, Antoine says with each piece he completes and passes on to others, a part of his heart and spirit goes along with it.
That remains true to this day, he said.
“I like to put eagles in my artwork. There’s been times in my life where I’d see an eagle flying above me and I think of it as being up there as my spirit helper. I like to think of the eagle as my grandfather watching over me.”
Although it took years for him to carve out time to return to creating his art, Antoine says it has also meant a return to and fully embracing, and learning more about, his own heritage and culture.
“I go to sweat lodges regularly now and I’m learning traditional songs. And all of that goes into my art. Right now I’m choosing to surround myself with positive people and I’m changing my lifestyle to further my art. I’m behind in computer technology, but I want to set up a website.”
Nothing is more important though, says Antoine, than reconnecting with his past.
“I am bringing my own culture back into my art – and that is important, not just for me but for everybody who sees it and can learn from it,” he said.