Seaweed, Willie

Kwakwaka'wakw carver Willie Seaweed was born in 1873 at Blunden Harbour, British Columbia, where he lived until his death in 1967. As chief of the Nakwaktokw band, Willie was called Heyhlamas or Rights Maker. His informal name was Kwaghitola or Smoky Top. Seaweed managed to avoid attending the government boarding school, and as a result he maintained and spoke his Kwak'wala language during his entire lifetime. During his childhood, Seaweed apprenticed in carving with his half brother Johnny Davis. Willie was an artist in the tradition of Charles James, Mungo Martin and Charles Edenshaw. His professional career coincided with the Canadian ban on the Potlatch ceremony. During this time Seaweed carved totem poles, coppers, headdresses, drums, rattles, whistles, and masks as well as painting house fronts. Most of Seaweed’s work was considered illegal because they consisted of ceremonial items and had to do with chiefly duties or public speaking.

There are over 120 known and cataloged examples of Seaweed’s work in existence. Many more examples probably exist in private collections or within the Kwakwaka'wakw community as gifts from potlatch ceremonies. Seaweed used his extensive knowledge of traditional stories, songs and dances and incorporated them into his work.

Willie Seaweed was also an innovator who developed the staid Kwakwaka'wakw art style into a more dynamic and flamboyant expression. Combined with Chief George, Charley George Sr. and George Walkus, Seaweed helped to create a new Kwakwaka'wakw style in the 1920s. This group of artists known as the “Kwakwaka'wakw Four” employed devices such as painting the background of a piece white, and using high gloss enamel paints in red, black, orange, yellow, blue and green, to give their work a more theatrical appearance. Seaweed also began using tools such as a compass and straight edge for precision line work and near perfect circles.

Eaglet Bowl by Bill Sewid (Willie Seaweed)

Eaglet Bowl by Bill Sewid (Willie Seaweed)

Eaglet Bowl by Bill Sewid (Wilie Seaweed)


More »