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Evolution of an artist: S’Klallam carver Jimmy Price is exploring new ways of artistic expression
Native art represents a tie to the land, to the environment, to ancestry. Artists in different regions have numerous ways to express themselves — in symbols, shapes and medium.
Totem poles are common in the Pacific Northwest, as are drums, paddles, plaques and rattles.
And now, shoes.
Jimmy Price of Little Boston, who is Port Gamble S’Klallam and Navajo, began carving nine years ago, evolving with the scope of his work. You can see him at some of the tribal bazaars around the region, displaying his traditional drums and carvings, but also his designs on slippers and shoes.
“It kind of just clicked,” Price said of the time when he began apprenticing under his then-wife’s uncle, master carver Joe Ives. “It’s something I could create, share my culture a little bit.”
Maria Peña, dean of student services at Peninsula College in Port Angeles, said of Price’s use of color, “Some artists work with the traditional colors black and red, but [Price] ventured out into other colors: purples, blues, lavenders.”
The college’s longhouse features local Native artists, including Price, in its gallery. Peña said the focus is to recruit new artists who haven’t had the opportunity to showcase their work yet, and have featured about three artists each year since 2007.
Price’s painting technique is also unique. Although Port Gamble S’Klallam is Coast Salish, Ives taught him carving in the Northwest style. Price explained Coast Salish art features circles and crescents, while his art uses U-shapes and ovoids, oval shapes with a flat bottom.
One of Price’s pieces that will stay at the college is a carved screen that he’s working on now for the longhouse, 7 feet by 10 feet — similar to the screen in the Port Gamble S’Klallam House of Knowledge. He also carved a lectern for the college, which he said he was nervous about. His dad helped him with the carpentry.“My dad helps me a lot,” Price said.
Price may have started as a carver, but his artistic abilities have stretched to many mediums. He paints different symbols and scenes on plaques, paddles, rattles, even slippers, using fabric markers. But he’s been a part-time artist so far.
“I’m coming up at a crossroads now,” Price said. “I want to be able to succeed as an artist and not stop doing what I want to do.”
However, he needs to be sure of financial stability for his family before committing to his art full time. Price has three children: daughters Angelina, 18, and Reyna, 16, and son Manny, 8, who is autistic. He said his son keeps him balanced between his day job as bus driver for the Port Gamble S’Klallam Head Start program, and his artwork.
“If I can provide for him financially a little better, if I can make his life a little easier,” Price said, then he’ll continue as an artist.
Price enjoys working with the children at Head Start. He’s worked there for 16 years. Being a male role model is important for many of the children he sees in the program.
“For a couple of hours, [the children] have that consistency of seeing the same person every day.”
He also donated a piece of his to a recent fundraiser for a new early childhood education center in Little Boston; his carved panel of an orca family received the highest bid of all the art work, $1,140. His art even out-priced a donated print by David Boxley, a well-known Tsimshian artist. Price said he finds there is a mutual respect between the artists he’s met and talked to, including Boxley.
“It gives me a bit more drive to take it to the next level,” he said.
Price sells most of his artwork at local bazaars, and is often contacted through the college or his Facebook page, S’Klallam Art. He is often asked to do custom work, and partners with friends who make other products, such as drums, which he then paints designs on.
“I do a lot of sketching at home, I’ll just sit and draw,” he said. “I’ll grab a piece of wood just to look at it for a while ... look at the grain, the size. What would fit in this area, will a wing [of an eagle] fit? Or just a head?”
Peña said Price’s experience is typical of many Native artists she’s worked with: An individual who loves making art but doesn’t have the opportunity to focus on it until much later. “[But] once they start getting out, there is so much demand for their art.”