Meet Michael John Brown, Argillite Carver from Haida Gwaii
Michael was born in 1958 and comes from the Haida Eagle clan of Hydaburg, Alaska and Old Massett, Haida Gwaii. He grew up in Old Massett and started carving argillite at the young age of 16, using his grandfather’s handmade tools.
With over 35 years of carving experience, Michael says that for him carving is part of the traditional experience of being Haida.
“I just didn’t want to lose the culture and heritage. Carving is a way to stay connected,” he says.
At age 25 he moved from Old Massett to Prince Rupert, then eventually to Queen Charlotte, where he resides today.
The natural beauty of Haida Gwaii and its creatures, as well as the traditional stories told by his grandparents inspire Michael’s carvings.
“My grandfather told me many stories while growing up and it’s important to share this history with others,” he says.
Michael’s art has been sold around the world to art collectors and to some noteworthy clients, such as certain Canadian astronauts. His work was also exhibited at the Vernon Museum. He carves argillite sculptures, boxes, plates, pipes, and jewelry pendants.
Many collectors comment on the traditional nature of Michael’s work, which is emblematic of the old days. Aspects of Michael’s traditional style, like his carving style of a person’s mouth or eyes, are techniques passed on to him from his grandfather.
Michael says that the uniqueness and shape of each argillite piece determines the carving. He works with each stone and chooses the design based on the stone’s natural shape.
“You need to feel the energy of the stone. It’s a cool feeling. Without this energy, it’s not as motivating to carve.”
Michael has 20-years experience in building and learned a lot from Haida Artists and families with a heritage in ship-building, particular Christian White and Morris White of Old Massett. Michael worked with the Whites to build Haida canoes. He also worked with Parks Canada on various carpentry projects. Learning how to build helped to develop his spatial and 3-dimensional abilities for carving.
Michael, who lives without a computer or telephone, loves living in Haida Gwaii.
“It’s nice and secluded,” he says, “Everyone knows everyone. It’s a close community.”
For young Haida artists getting into carving Michael says that “practice makes perfect,” and “to not be afraid to keep on trying.”
“If we don’t keep carving, we’re going to lose it,” he says.
To see more of Michael’s work, browse his argillite carvings on our website: