Materials

Argillite

Argillite, also called black slate, is a type of fine-grained carbonaceous shale that is greenish-black or gray in color. It is found in many varieties; the argillite used by Haida carvers comes from Slatechuck Mountain on Graham Island in the Haida Gwaii archipelago (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands) in
many varieties; the argillite used by Haida carvers comes from Slatechuck Mountain on Graham Island in the Haida Gwaii archipelago (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands) inBritish Columbia. It is now reserved for the exclusive use of Haida carvers. Argillite carvings began to appear in quantity in the 1820’s, principally as trade or export items, and carvings from that time often incorporate visual elements of European culture. Argillite is relatively soft and lends itself well to carving. Typically it is polished to a
smooth black finish.

Soapstone

Soapstone is a term applied broadly to various stones popular in Inuit carving, such as steatite, which is relatively soft, or harder stones such as serpentine, siltstone, argillite, dolomite, and quartz. These types of stone have largely replaced ivory as the most common carving material among the Inuit. They range in color from light gray to yellow-green, blue-green, dark gray, and black. Carvers generally use hand tools for stone sculptures, roughing out forms first with adzes, hammers, and chisels and finishing carvings with files, steel wool, or sandpaper, followed by application of oil, beeswax, or polish. Most of these stones are fairly hard, leading to a prevalence of rounded, solid forms, although details may be incised with small metal tools.

Pyroxene

 Pyroxene refers to a group of igneous mineral silicates that includes basalt and jadeite, both used in Inuit carving. Pyroxene is sometimes included under the term “soapstone.” It ranges in color from pale green to brownish-green to black.

Cedar

 The use of Western red cedar and yellow cedar in First Nations art of the Northwest Coast reflects the close spiritual ties First Nations people have felt with the forests of that region. Cedar trees have provided wood for building houses, canoe making, and carving everything from totem poles to small implements, as well as bark for weaving clothing and baskets.

Operculum/a

 Opercula are corneous or calcareous structures covering the opening of the shell of certain marine or freshwater snails. In Northwest Coast indigenous art, they are used for decorative details on carved wooden objects, including teeth on masks.

Abalone

Mother-of-pearl, from the iridescent inner layer of abalone mollusk shells, appears frequently in First Nations art as decorative inlay on objects made of wood, metal, ivory, bone, or horn. Abalone shell is also used alone for small carved objects.

Operculum/a

 Opercula are corneous or calcareous structures covering the opening of the shell of certain marine or freshwater snails. In Northwest Coast indigenous art, they are used for decorative details on carved wooden objects, including teeth on masks.

Basalt

Basalt is a dark fine-grained igneous rock typically composed of feldspar minerals, pyroxene, and sometimes olivine. It often has a columnar structure. Inuit artists from the community of Baker Lake, Nunavut Territory, frequently use local basalt for carving.

Stonecut print

Stonecut printing is a technique that Inuit printmakers have refined to a high degree. The stonecut artist transfers a drawing onto a stone that has been prepared with a smooth surface. The artist then uses ink to trace the lines of the drawing and cuts away areas of stone that are not to be printed. The uncut surface is inked with rollers. Thin paper, often handmade Japanese-style paper, is placed on the inked surface, covered with a sheet of tissue, and pressed onto the cut stone with a small padded disc. The ink must be reapplied before each print.