28 Jul John Livingston. First Nation Artist
Master Carver and Painter of Northwest Native Art……..
Sharry and I stopped in Victoria to visit with John Livingston and his wife Maxine Matilpi. Unfortunately, we missed Maxine because she was at Gilford Island teaching women how to make button blankets, a traditional art form of the coastal people which is her specialty. John came to dinner on Starr and we talked about our growing friendship over the past 30 or so years.
John carved this pole for Sharry and I many years ago.
That’s me on the bottom, Brent and Brooke in the middle and Sharry is the mischievous Raven on top.
The pole now lives on my brother Dan Stabberts beach at Obstruction Pass at the south end of Orcas Island
The next day we went to John’s studio to look at some of his current projects.
John is an adopted Kwakwaka’wakw (Pacific Northwest Coast Indigenous people) master carver born in Victoria B.C. He was taught to carve by Henry and Tony Hunt in the early 1970’s. His artwork is in numerous major collections, including in the Metropolitan Museum. Below is a 3-minute video about John at the MIM, Musical Instruments Museum, in Scottsdale Arizona.
I asked John many questions about how he started as a carver and painter; I wanted to know the story about how a Scotsman was adopted into one of the most artistic and respected North Coast native families.
As a 14-year-old teenager, John and his friend Henry Hunt Jr. carved small masks and totems for pocket money. Many members of the Hunt family are descended from a long line of chiefs in the Kwakwaka’wakw Band based in Fort Rupert, just south of Port McNeil on Vancouver Island.
The more time he spent with the Hunt family the more involved he became in their traditions and history. John’s mom and dad were both college educated, his mom had a Master’s Degree in social work and his dad a Master’s Degree from Cornell in geology. When John told his parents that he wanted to skip college to carve and paint, he was given complete support to follow his passion. Over time, John lived with the Hunt family and fished, carved, danced and potlatched with them.
John has worked on many large commissions with the late Henry Hunt, Tony Hunt, Calvin Hunt, Tony Hunt Jr., Don Yeomans, Robert Davidson, Tim Paul and Art Thompson
Over the years John began doing native art restorations for many museums in both Canada, the US and Europe. He also became recognized as an expert in native art values, and is retained by many museums to appraise their North Coast art collections.
John is a very hard worker and never a day goes by where he isn’t carving, painting or in a native village helping with some creative project. He has a sense of scale that is valued by the pole carvers and is asked to help shape out the basics when they are starting a new pole. This requires knowing how to handle a chainsaw sometimes with a 4ft blade.
John showing his 4ft chainsaw blade for shaping logs into totem poles
Imagine being asked to rough out a totem on a 1000-year-old seasoned log that has been stored like a rare million-dollar bottle of wine, and with one slip of the chainsaw the log is ruined! On the next day John might be carving a 5×8 inch chief’s frontlet using tiny carving tools, and every detail is of utmost importance!
John Livingston is a very special person, quiet, soft spoken and very humble.
We are honored to be considered one of his friends.
More about John found here: