Growing up in Edmonton, Jason Carter didn't feel exposed to very much of his Aboriginal spirituality. In his search to reconnect to his heritage, he found Nanabozho, the trickster rabbit, in the unlikely form of soapstone.
A few days before the opening of his most recent exhibition, Nanabozho: The Tail of Giving, Carter shared, "I started carving soapstone in 2003 after I had mentioned offhandedly to my sister that I would love to try soapstone carving, and at Christmas, I got a piece of soapstone, which I left in the closet for a while. But as I continued looking to connect with my spirituality, I was looking for a flat piece of stone to smudge with and carry around with me, I ended up cutting off a piece of this soapstone, which turned into a tiny eagle's wing, and that's when I really started playing with it."
Image credit: Jason Carter, 2009
Beginning with the nontraditional tools of a wrench and a screwdriver, Carter began carving his first pieces of free form and animal forms. With a friend and mentor in St. Albert-based Doug Smart, Carter has gone on to have two solo exhibitions in the past year, been picked up by Bearclaw Gallery and selected as one of six Aboriginal artists to represent Alberta at the upcoming Olympics in Vancouver.
"I started carving soapstone because I was searching for my Aboriginal spirituality," he continues. "In that, in trying to get height out of the stone, I found Nanbozho, the trickster rabbit. In Cree, Mi'kmaq and Ojibway, they all use the rabbit as their trickster character, something used by the elders to traditionally teach children about morality and their surroundings, and in my research, I was inspired by these stories."
Within many fables, it is Nanabozho's trickery that leads to and explains why the beaver has a flat tail, or why the grizzly bear has a hump on its back.
Working as a live camera operator for City TV, Carter combined creative forces with his coworker and TV personality Bridget Ryan for a run of cabaret storytelling and art exhibition at the Catalyst Theatre for most of December.
"I see a streaming narrative throughout the pieces that are interconnected," says Carter, who trained in graphic design and hasn't taken any formal art training since high school. "We were trying to tie the two shows together through storytelling, as both shows are tied to stories. I've only ever seen one cabaret, so I'm not sure what to expect, but there are 18 new songs all interconnected through story and within context they all tell a story through song."
Carving primarily in soapstone, as well as chlorite and wonderstone, the exhibition features 13 paintings and 13 sculptures. Although soapstone is not exactly a popular art medium outside of most Northern Canadian communities, Carter seems committed to the art form.
"The history of soapstones includes smaller pendants as they would be more mobile," says Carter, whose pieces weigh roughly 15 – 25 pounds each. "There's quite a few carvers up north, but not too many in the south, or urban cities. It's a very messy medium, I have to wear a full suit and wear a masked ventilator as soapstone dust is bad for the lungs, and I kick up a lot when I'm carving. It's hard for anyone to get into. It's really messy and expensive, but I really like doing it."
*First published in Vue Weekly