Ernest Skillow Edenso Swanson is a Haida artist from Old Massett, British Columbia, who currently lives in Vancouver. Ernest holds the traditional Haida name, Giinowaan, a successor to the Yaghulaanas Raven Clan of Dadens. As a matrilineal descendent of Haida artists including Charles Edenshaw and Rufus Moody, Ernest continues his family’s legacy by creating traditional Haida art. In 2004, he began to work with artists such as Jim McGuire and Chief 7idansuu James Hart. In 2005, he won the Emerging Artist award from British Columbia’s Alliance of Arts and Culture. Ernest assisted James Hart on the carving of the Celebration of Bill Reid pole, which was raised in 2009 at the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art. In 2012, Ernest travelled to Suva, Fiji, where he led the creation of the first Haida-Fijian totem pole, from mahogany. Mentoring a group of local Fijian artists in carving a large-scale sculpture. He has also had opportunities to study Haida masterworks abroad, travelling with James Hart to England and Scotland, Switzerland, and Ottawa. Ernest has displayed his works on regional, national, and international scales, working in wood, silver, gold, and argillite. These include:
Our culture; our heritage is born of our respectful, intimate ties with the earth and the sea. Like our cedar, the roots of our people are entwined. I owe my existence to Haida Gwaii. It is on these lands, where my ancestors lived and died. Those living today assume the responsibility of passing down our heritage to the generations that follow.
I am grateful for the gift to convey our stories through sculpture, design, jewellery, and illustrations. I give thanks to Haida Gwaii, to all the creatures from the land, the sea, and the sky. Without these beings and this place, this form of craftsmanship would not exist.
From our oral traditions, which have been passed down from generation to generation, I draw my inspiration from nature, and those resources available from our land and sea. These resources include argillite, which has influenced the creation of intricate engraved and sculpted jewellery, which convey the ancient legends of our people.
I feel a strong connection to our lands and waters, and it is my responsibility to explore, protect and pass on our ancient traditions. One way of doing this is through our art. In our old ways, the belief is that everything has a spirit, and by carving images into every piece, we breathe life into these things. It is from this connection, and our ancient ways of living, that I draw my inspiration and strive to create beautiful pieces. Every time I go home, I can feel the spirit of the land and it fuels me to create art that honours my Nation and that which makes us Haida.