For over 40 years Joe Ellison has been designing and making useful things from wood. Early work focused on tables, benches, and book cases but has recently expanded to Michigan cutting boards and candle holders. AuSable Artisan Village Gallery & Art Center patrons may have seen his candles made from white birch trees, native pines or re-purposed cedar posts.
Early in his career, Joe taught in small Alaskan villages. During that time he was able to watch resident carvers. He also visited museums that housed collections of carved native artifacts. Over time Joe changed from an admirer to an active carver in the style of the Pacific Northwest Coast (PNC) tribal groups. This is much different from his start with caricatures and spirit faces. He has taken several classes from Northwest Coast master carvers and designers in this genre, including Steve Brown, Lonnie Acord, and Gregg Blomberg as he worked on masks and feast dishes using PNC design principles.
PNC covers the region of Southeast Alaska and Western British Columbia and for many this brings to mind totem poles. Totem poles represent only a fraction of the items that PNC artists make and decorate for daily and ritual use. These include clothing, hats and helmets, boxes and chests, rattles and drums, feast dishes and ladles, and many other items.
Joe uses native style carving tools, including crooked knives and adzes, to carve articles as authentically as possible. He follows the conventions of PNC formline art, using traditional shapes and colors. Joe’s work is a unique blend of art, with everyday objects in mind, and representational objects that are not found in ritual use. His work is done with great respect for the origins of this art form and for the Pacific Northwest Coast people who developed it over the last 1500 years.
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