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Totem Pole by James Bender at Pike Place Market (#72: 15046 bytes)

Robert Hewson: Tsimsian artist

Robert’s first memories of artistic expression are musical. His father, Wesley Hewson, and his uncle, Ray Haldane, had a band that often practiced in the Hewsons’ home. Robert’s mother, Mary Haldane Hewson, was a singer who encouraged all her children to sing. Robert says, “Our home was always full of music.” Later, Robert and his brothers would have a band of their own. He can still pull an impressive collection of harmonicas out of his carving tool kit.
Born in October 1946 in Metlakatla, Alaska, Robert noticed the dearth of Native visual art in that town during his youth, “We had to go to the Trading Post in Ketchikan to see masks—or anything—done in the Northwest style.”
Metlakatla is a unique community, founded by a group of Tsimsian families who emigrated from Old Metlakatla, British Columbia, in 1887. They came at the urging of William Duncan, an English missionary who worked with the Tsimsian people for many years. He became disenchanted with the Canadian treatment of its First Peoples, so he traveled to Washington, D.C. to negotiate a treaty and reservation for the Tsimsian in the newly acquired territory of Alaska.
When the 900 Tsimsian moved away from Old Metlakatla to a temporary site on the way to their new home in Alaska, Duncan told them that he had given up his old ways to go to Alaska, and that they should do likewise. As symbols of their old ways, they should destroy their masks and rattles, headdresses and robes. On the beach, the Tsimsian built a huge bonfire and burned thousands of precious objects, many that had been handed down for generations. After that there would be little public display of tribal art for many, many years.
Robert remembers Casper Mather, a Metlakatla Tsimsian who made a living by carving, selling mostly to tourists. “He did the roughest carving you could imagine, but it had a power that I could feel. I wondered if I could do that too.”
1998  Paul Nicholson and Robert Hewson
Unless otherwise noted, all images and text are:
2009 Chief Seattle Arts
Last modified: November 09, 2014