Carving history and spirits
William Gruben accepts GNAF role

Glen Korstrom
Northern News Services

INUVIK (Oct 11/99) - Carver William Gruben has recently accepted an offer to be on Inuvik's Great Northern Arts Festival board of directors.

"I'm quite excited about it," he said. "Because I see in the future, the Great Northern Arts Festival doing for the West what the Inuit Art Foundation does for the East out of Ottawa. That is, to handle the promotion, the marketing and keeping in contact with the artists to see what we need."

Gruben said the board could also look into accessing funds for artists to check out new types of stone.

"I'd like to see the Great Northern Arts Festival start trying to teach the carvers in the West to move away from the soft stone into the harder stones," he said.

Gruben favours the harder stones because carvings are meant to be touched, he said

"Carvings should be held, turned around and rubbed. With the soft stone you can't do that. It's always got to be encased in glass because if you rub it you're going to scratch it," the 43-year-old said.

"To me, soft stone carvings aren't really carvings because they are not made to last."

Gruben has been carving since he was a boy.

His father worked with his hands a lot and he said that taught him to do the same.

Otherwise encouragement came from one of his cousins.

"I was watching my cousin in Tuk. I had painted before that, I had dabbled in oils and acrylic. He tossed me a chunk of stone and said, 'William, if you can paint, I bet you can carve,'" Gruben said.

"But the very first piece that I made was a polar bear carving in a piece of ice."

Now his art is generally with harder stones -- marble, serpentine and lime stones.

His aim within his art, he said, is to interpret some of the Inuvialuit history and depict some of the stories his father used to tell him.

"I give the overtones of some of the shamanistic history," he said.

"Our belief system was based on the shamans so my work has overtones of those but I also make comments on what's happening nowadays too."

He said he is proud of many pieces but two pieces that he carved during this year's Great Northern Arts Festival stand out in his mind.

One was entitled, Helping Hand and the other one was called Dancing Bear.

The Dancing Bear carving came from hard Norman Wells limestone and was inlaid with a face of an elder on the bear's foot.

"The dancing bear shows the connection to the spirit world. That's what we're trying to get across," he said.

Gruben is married to Gayle and they have three children, Christopher, 14, Janina, 13, and Karis, 8.