Aaron York is an internationally celebrated traditional artist, educator, public speaker and mentor. He is the owner and founder of the Red Child Studio of Fine Wabanaki Arts. Although best known for his skills as a birchbark canoe artisan, he has also revived several other rare Wabanaki art forms such as brides boxes and highly embellished crooked knives. His pieces are of equal complexity to the ancestral examples known in museums and private collections. As a result, his arts can be found in museums and high-end private collections resting aside pieces of Wabanaki greats such as Tomah Joseph and Eugene Francis of the 1800s. Aaron's arts have earned many prestigious publications as well placement Hollywood films, commercials, documentaries and radio worldwide.
In 2005, Aaron was asked by the Ministikwan Cree First Nation in Saskatchewan to go west and help them rediscover their traditional canoe forms. Since then, he has worked extensively with several western First nations in Canada to revive their aboriginal watercraft. In return for his teaching out west, he was immersed in all other aspects of Algonquian culture that he had been longing to learn. Aaron attributes being well rounded culturally to travelling to cousin nations where he found missing pieces of his nation's traditions that were lost to colonization. Aaron now has strong family ties in the treaty 6 and treaty 7 regions of Saskatchewan and Alberta. In short, his time and bond with his western Cree cousins was life altering, and the quality of his art is what he attributes to making that relationship possible.
"Culture is not inherited, it is learned." We do not arrive from the womb with the ability to speak our ancestral language or know our culture. It takes only one generation of failing to teach our children their culture for devastating cultural erosion to occur. As an eastern Native I know this all too well! This is what drives me to work so hard to create art that is "over the top" but well within the parameters of regionally specific, traditional Wabanaki art forms. Such art forms that are rare, labor intensive and have a life-long learning curve. I am trying to do my part to heal the toxic affect that cultural erosion has caused our people.
Material culture is a language! Its a non-verbal language that transcends the limits of what we can convey through speech or written word. Material cultural crosses racial divides, political boundaries, and time itself. Material culture gives us a direct form of connection to our ancestors, other living beings, and the Aki (earth) itself. When I give thanks to a beautiful canoe birch for the materials it provides me I make a promise to turn its skin into a timeless piece of beauty. The quality of my art is my greatest giving of thanks to the plants, animals and Aki that give to me. I am bound through an ancient traditional agreement with my plant, animal and human relations to do my absolute best with their gifts. This is what I offer the world, my nation, my family.
This is the non-verbal I message I encapsulate in my art to be understood by my descendants hundreds of years from now: "Do your very best. Always stay humble enough to improve your skill! Your hands are speaking for your people! You are telling the world what our values are! You are Wabanaskiya! You are a human representative of Aki's beauty, health, and a celebration of life itself! This is the only thing you inherit! The rest is up to you to show just how much beauty you can convey through good hands, just as we did, and my grandmothers and grandfathers did before me. Love your culture. Love yourself as much as we love you grandchild and pass this message on through your art the way we passed this on to you!"
Mkwe Awasis (Red Child)
Address: 120 Elmwood Drive, Barre VT 05641
Detail shot of canoe
Birchbark Moose Call
Chip Carved Crooked Knife
Chip Carved Bent Wood Bride Box
Fawn Skin quiver, Permanent Collection, Odanak Museum, Odanak FN, QC.
Birchbark canoe class, Ministikwan First Nation, 2005 and 2016, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Birchbark canoe class, Ministikwan First Nation, 2005 and 2016, Saskatchewan
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