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Bone eagles take flight at Olympics

Fox Morin can make bones soar. He does it in his small Grandin shed in St. Albert. Using dental drills, sanders and a lot of patience, he transforms ordinary horns and antlers into mighty eagles flown in straight from his imagination.

Fox Morin can make bones soar.

He does it in his small Grandin shed in St. Albert. Using dental drills, sanders and a lot of patience, he transforms ordinary horns and antlers into mighty eagles flown in straight from his imagination. "When I look at an antler, I know how that eagle is going to look," he says.

Morin, 60, is a Métis carver known worldwide for his work with stone and bone. He's also one of about 60 Alberta artists that will be at the Vancouver Winter Olympics as part of Canada's cultural showcase.

He's spent months getting ready for it, he says, but the excitement is just now starting to sink in. "It's a once in a lifetime thing."

Culture fest

The Cultural Olympiad is meant to demonstrate Canada's culture as host nation for the Olympics, says Beryl Cullum, spokesperson for Alberta Culture and Community Spirit. "We think it's a great opportunity to showcase our artists," she says.

Morin is one of six aboriginal artists picked by Edmonton's Sun and Moon Gallery for the event's Traditional Alberta booth, says Jaret Sinclair-Gibson, executive director of the gallery. Artists will demonstrate their craft during the Olympics and get international exposure for their work.

Sinclair-Gibson says he picked Morin after seeing his beautiful carved horns at a recent conference. "It was so unique and exquisite," he says, and you don't see a lot of native artists that use horn — most prefer soapstone.

Eagles from bone

Bone work dates back to ancient times when aboriginals carved their own weapons and tools, Sinclair-Gibson says. Crafters customized their tools over time, eventually creating an art form.

Morin says he started bone carving in the 1980s. "I started dreaming about eagles," he recalls, which elders told him was spiritually significant. (Eagles represent wisdom and power in First Nations mythology.) He figured that the animal was telling him, "Hey! You have to carve me!" so he started doing so.

Morin's carvings now sell for thousands of dollars and are owned throughout the world. He has also been the official carver for the North American Indigenous Games.

His workshop is packed with crates of antlers and horns. Bone dust covers everything. The dental drill whines in his dust-caked hands as it traces ruffled feathers onto a blade of mastodon horn. Several unfinished eagle sculptures perch on a nearby table.

"Eagles are all I carve," he explains — he's tried bears and Inukshuks, but they don't have the same appeal. "The spirit of that bird is so phenomenal," he says. "I love the beauty of the bird, so that's why I honour them the way I do."

Each piece can take hundreds of hours, Morin says. "I get really crazy with the detail." He used to carve as fast as possible, he says, until he learned that it was detail, not speed, that sold.

Morin says he works with deer, wood, and pipestone, but prefers moose. All the antlers are shed naturally. "Each antler is unique in itself," he says, which makes for a different bird every time.

"I usually don't know what or how it's going to end up," he says. "All I know is that it's going to be an eagle."

A ram's horn might become the head and neck of an enraged bird, for example, eyes sharp and beak wide as it screams. Moose antlers might turn into flowing wings, etched with countless feathers.

Morin says he'll leave for the Olympics in February, with most of his sculptures shipping out this week. He plans to show his work at an exhibit in South Korea later this year.

Morin's work will be on display at the Vancouver Community College from Feb. 12 to 16. For details, visit www.alberta.ca/vancouver2010.


Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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