THE UNITY POLE “PROCESS”
2017 Special Commission
To celebrate the enormous contribution that Canada’s indigenous peoples have made to this great land, the Canadian National Exhibition has commissioned Ojibway artist Kris Nahrgang to create a Unity Pole. This distinctive 25-foot pole, carved from a majestic white cedar tree from the Peterborough, Ontario area, embraces both indigenous and universal symbols.
Kris’ ornate carving is enhanced with paintwork in the vibrant woodland cultural style. The bright and colourful palette differentiates this Pole from the Story Poles that are carved on the West Coast, which use more muted colours and are carved from red cedars.
CNE Unity Pole
About the Artist
Kris is a licensed archeologist and Ojibway artist that specializes in painting, sculpting and bone work. Living in an off-reserve community in Kawartha Nishnawbe of Buleigh Falls, Kris prides himself on being a community leader taking an active political role and volunteering when he can.
What follows is the journey of the CNE Unity Pole from start to finish.
Getting the Tree
“I use white cedar because they’re so powerful and strong. And cedar is one of our sacred medicines as well.”
… after looking at a hundred or more cedars – probably way more than 100 – this one tree was just standing there, it stood out …”
“When I first take a tree down, I always honour it. So I’ll light some sage and tobacco and I’ll put it with the tree with my eagle feather and I’ll just smudge the tree for cleansing it and cleansing myself and for thanking the tree for its offering, because I truly belileve that taking a living thing and turning it into something that’s art like I have, is a process that needs to be honoured…”
“When I first get the pole inside the studio, I take the bark off it so it can dry …
… within a couple weeks it goes from a thousand or more pounds to something (much lighter)”
“I start the design with a marker, and I start cutting it in.”
“When I start, I use all the basic colours for what I begin with, and then after that I enhance it with other colouring.”
“I like to think as though I’m adding spirit on the pole or on the image, so I take it and I put bright magentas or bright greens, bright yellows, and to try and enhance it even more.”