Meet Ben Edgars, Argillite Carrier
Ben Edgars, a local Haida resident from Old Massett, is experienced in selecting and carrying argillite for Haida argillite carvers.
Ben is the son of Haida argillite carver Myles Edgars, who is well-known for his fine work in shaping and carving argillite pendants and earrings, as well as large argillite totem poles.
Ben, who has been around argillite his whole life, went on his first argillite collecting expedition when he was just 13 years old. Ben recalls that his first trip up Slatechuck Mountain was led by the Haida carver, Andy Williams. The next time they went up he was instructed, “you’ve been up once, and now it’s your turn to lead the way.” Ever since then Ben has been increasing his knowledge of this special stone and the Slatechuck site.
Argillite is a special type of slate only found in Haida Gwaii and exclusively carved by the Haida people. The argillite source, Slatechuck, is additionally protected and is only accessible to members of the Haida Nation.
Ben collects argillite for his father, Myles Edgars, and sister, Amy Edgars, who is one of few women practicing the craft of argillite carving. Ben also gets asked by other Haida carvers to lead the way to the argillite source.
Ben has been trekking up Slatechuck Mountain for over 10 years. He goes by foot and makes the journey 2-3 times a year. With a strong back and knowledge of the difficult path, Ben sometimes carries up to 150lbs of argillite down in one trip!
With many years’ experience, Ben jokes that he can practically do the trip blindfolded.
He is also very knowledgeable about the process of selecting the perfect piece of argillite from the surface rock. Ben knows how to identify the ideal grade of this culturally significant stone, and tells us that you can’t just pick up any piece of argillite. There is a special sort of know-how required to choose the highest quality piece of argillite from the rock quarry.
Ben’s argillite knowledge continues to expand with every trek he makes up Slatechuck. He recalls past instances where he carried down large, beautiful pieces of argillite, only to find them cracked into smaller pieces as his elevation decreased. All argillite quarried out of Slatechuck mountain is valued, but the larger pieces are more difficult to get and especially prized. These larger pieces are preferred by master carvers so that they can create large, monumental carvings, like totem poles, platters, bentwood-style boxes, or transformation pieces that require more material to tell its elaborate story.
When asked about his interest in carving argillite, Ben says he’s tried when he was younger, but for now is content with helping his family and other Haida carvers access this sought-after stone.