Northwest NEWS

July 26, 1999

Features

Haida carver lends expertise to 'Living River'

Ralph Bennett

Native American carver Ralph Bennett holds an exquisitely carved dance baton representing the killer whale. The whale can be seen at the bottom.
Staff photo by Lisa Allen.

by Lisa Allen, Valley View editor

   DUVALL--Ralph Bennett is pleased that the Snoqualmie River is the focus of Sandblast this year.

   "The theme (The Living River) is really important," he says. "That wonderful river needs our attention and the sandsculpture will help people to see that."

   The Native American carver and storyteller will be on site to offer his artistic direction to the project, which will take place this weekend at the McCormick Park beach at the west edge of town. The public is invited to participate in carving the planned three-dimensional mural that will depict fish, birds, mammals, brush, trees, and river spirits.

   Bennett, 50, is the son and grandson of carvers. His grandmother, who raised him in Hydaburg, Alaska, was the matriarch of the Two-Fin Killer Whale Clan of the Haida tribe. He has been an artist since age 15. "Art is the reason I was born," he says. "It has always been that way."

   Bennett has worked on projects with the UW Museum of History and Industry. Until last year, he was Artist-in-Residence for King County. He is also a storyteller who has used carvings to share his native culture with schoolchildren for over 20 years.

   "Carving is a way to honor all the creatures for all the things they give us," he says. "We use images of nature to honor them. Everything we have is a gift from nature."

   In the shade of a giant cedar tree at his home in the hills above Duvall, he carves Canadian yellow cedar into shapes, figures, and faces.

   "Cedar is the traditional tree of life," says Bennett."We (Native Americans) built our homes, canoes, and salmon boxes from red cedar."

   He says that in art, "I get to know who I am ... all art leaves a trace of yourself."

   Holding a newly carved dance baton representing the killer whale, he explains the baton is held in front of the dancer and then handed off to a warrior.

   "The totem carries the message of the oral tradition of the people," Bennett says. "In the totem, we are giving thanks to the tree and honoring the tree. In salmon dances, we remember all these things who have sacrificed so we can live."