This year's Aboriginal feast at Prince George Secondary School, an annual event to celebrate First Nations education success at the city's largest secondary school, had an artistic grand finale.
A new public sign was unveiled that will welcome staff, students and visitors to PGSS. It was hand carved by noted Cree/Dakelh visual artist Clayton Gauthier, with helping hands from PGSS students and staff members. It was crafted out of cedar.
The sign features a polar bear centred at the bottom, wrapped around the sides by feathers. On top of the polar bear and between the feathers are the words PGSS Welcomes You. The primary colour is PGSS green, with black and white outlining and highlights.
Gauthier was asked by PGSS administrators to make the sign.
"There is a high number of Indigenous youth at the school," Gauthier said. "Art holds a lot of power and they wanted to get the kids feeling more at home, in a sense. We incorporated the polar bear because it's the school's logo. As we were moving forward with the design, I put in two feathers, and the two feathers represent the road of life. Also, there's two in there because of the balance that we need in our lives."
Work on the sign began last fall in a space set up inside the school. Gauthier was pleased to welcome so many people into the carving process and to teach them some of the techniques involved.
"It was by whoever wanted to come and carve," he said. "People came in and tried it out and some of them stayed right from the beginning until the end. It was a variety of ages, from Grade 8 to Grade 12, and there were even adults. Teachers were carving too - all people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. They were learning about the tools and different carving techniques.
"You've got to share (the knowledge)," Gauthier added. "That's what I really enjoy doing. It fills my heart to see these youth. At times, there's youth that have never carved before but now they're getting their parents to buy them carving tools and now they're carving at home. That's pretty cool."
Gauthier's own mentor was Peter George, a Wet'suwet'en master carver and educator in Prince George. One of their signature works together is a 16-foot by four-foot cedar carving that hangs in the lobby of the University Hospital of Northern B.C. Work on that piece began in 2011.
"That was the first time I really got the chance to learn from an elder," Gauthier said. "From his teachings, that's where I'm at now with the carving."
The new sign will become the focal point in a re-imagined front foyer at the school.