The art of loving
Whitehorse couple carves together

Daniel MacIsaac
Northern News Services

NNSL (July 30/99) - James Kirby and Carmen Samoila are striving to carve out a living as artists -- and turn their carving into art.

The Yukon couple were among dozens of carvers who made their way to Inuvik last week to help celebrate the Great Northern Arts Festival and learn a few things along the way.

"It's an inspiration just to be here," said Samoila, a petite, fine-featured woman with shoulder-length brown hair. "We've been working closely with the elders and I even tried a piece of cold, raw muktuk today. The woman who gave it to me knew by the look on my face that I was having a hard time with it and eventually handed me a cloth, then giggled as I spat into it."

Just 24 years old and a rookie carver, Samoila said she's more than happy to delve into new things. She and Kirby hosted a variety of artists in their white canvas tent set up outside the Midnight Sun Recreation Centre. Samoila and her daughter, Carissa, could also be seen inside the exhibition hall watching the local artists busy with their own embroidery and beadwork.

"I just love watching them," she said.

Kirby said the couple met when he was trying to set up an artists' co-operative in Whitehorse a few years back and said he soon realized Samoila shared his desire to become a full-time artist.

"Carmen has the talent, the drive, the ambition and the passion for it," he said.

Kirby also said that like Samoila he, too, once experienced an overlapping of art and food.

"I worked as a professional chef and made sculptures from tallow," he said, "and besides that, it's also an art to prepare a buffet table for 500 people and still have it come out looking good."

While they work with traditional Northern materials like mammoth ivory, bone and stone, the couple bring their eclectic backgrounds to their art. Kirby is the son of North African immigrants and on one mammoth tusk dedicated to the memory of a doctor friend, he had carved a double face in the spirit of an Aboriginal healer, alongside an Egyptian hawk and a Celtic headband.

For her part, Samoila was working on an unorthodox carving of a spider web made from a caribou antler, sitting in a tree and topped off with a stone spider and "dream mask."

"What works best for me is what comes from my soul," she said. "Certain pieces are inspired by people and others by places or from what comes out of my dreams."

But ultimately, the couple said they are living their dream of living as artists and, despite how tough they said that living can sometimes be in their isolated cabin in the Yukon bush, they said it's worth it.

"As a mother, it's important that I'm raising my daughter with this lifestyle, so that she'll learn to trust herself and have confidence and the freedom to explore the world," she said. "The same freedom I have."