Nathan Gilles

Nathan Gilles is an artist/educator living and working in northwest Washington. Nathan became interested in Native art in the late 1980’s, and his passion grew into a quest to learn, contemplate and perpetuate aspects of Northwest Coast aboriginal art and culture. Although Nathan is non-Native, he has a particular background amongst the Coast Salish people. Since 1987, Nathan has spent extensive time studying under a host of friends and elders in native communities across the state of Washington and southern British Columbia. He has worked to gain an understanding of Halkomelem and Lushootseed, which are two distinct languages of the Coast Salish. Nathan explains he has learned a great deal while living and working on various Native reservations in western Washington, where he has been employed as both a high school teacher and an artist creating ceremonial and monumental art works. “For many years the art and cultures of the Northwest Coast have greatly absorbed my time and interest. I became deeply interested in art and carving at an early age. As a teenager, I remember David Forlines carving large sea-going canoes on the Quileute reservation. Witnessing the large canoes being carved from huge cedar logs and the sea-going canoe cultural renaissance that soon followed had a profound affect on me as a young man. At that time, I consciously became aware of a personal desire to pursue my fascination with Native art.”

During the summer of 1998 Native mentors to Nathan strongly encouraged him to follow his passion in the arts by ceremonially bestowing the Samish name TOO-SEM’-TIAN. “The name has been placed upon me from the Gus family to wear and take care of for a short time, only while I’m alive; I do not own the name but it is a companion. Since my teenage years, the Gus family has been greatly supportive and encouraging. The ancestor name I wear is a name passed through a lineage of individuals that carried on a legacy of carving and wood-work and encouraged others to do so as well. Thus the name holds the accumulated and transferred power of its predecessors. I’m proud to attempt to continue working in this line as an artist.”

Besides learning from various artists in the genre of Northwest Coast Art, Nathan has formal art training and holds a studio art degree from Western Washington University. He also received an education degree with an extensive documented focus on Indian education with a Washington state teaching certification. While working full-time as a carver for the James Town S’Klallam tribe 2004-2010, Nathan had a pivotal learning experience. During this time, Nathan worked with a team of artists and as a co-collaborator with lead artist Dale Faulstich. The group produced over 25 large scale monumental totem poles and numerous smaller pieces.

Currently, Nathan describes his work as becoming more focused on further learning and reflecting upon the aesthetic values of the art form and less on the related cultural characteristics. “I’ve become interested predominantly in the endless nuances and various regional stylistic traditions attributed to the genre. There is more than a lifetime to learn, investigate, and create. The ancient visual poetry has been intentionally perpetuated by a legacy of artists over centuries. It evokes a rooted sense of place for me as a person, living in the busy modern age on the northwest coast, and I endeavor to carry on this visual dialogue.”