Cori Dominique Savard
Yahl’Aadas or White Raven
of the Yahgu’laanaas Raven clan
Born in Masset, B.C.
Grew up in Gatineau Quebec.
October 4, 1985
Art Inspirations: The Davidson’s. Charles Edenshaw.
“The old masters, the ones whose pieces are so intricate, so perfect and yet we may never know who they are.”
Cori- second from the right. Anti Enbridge Photo Campaign.
I met my best good friend Cori just over two years ago. My friend Allison invited her to participate in a group anti-enbridge photo-shoot. I knew of Cori and we had met briefly when my family would go visit Reggie Davidson. Allison’s brother Duane is engaged to Cori and Alli thought she might like to participate in the photo-shoot.
We met, she witnessed my bossy ways and hilarious nature and the rest is history. Our dogs met and fell easily into a bromance.
I love her and her ever-growing family of best good friends.
Cori agreed to answer some questions about her life, art and her work thus far.
She also kindly shared some photos of her pieces.
Cori carving in Reg Davidson’s shop.
I am always curious as to how artists become artists.
Inspiration. Motivation. Dreams. Love. Creativity. Beauty. Thoughtfulness. Mindfulness.
All of these words seem to be recurring themes when I ask these questions and hear their stories.
Haida art has so much strength and so does Cori.
She is not only strong-willed but beautiful, highly intelligent and incredibly talented.
I asked Cori if she had ever considered another career path and she replied that she has “wanted to be an artist since I could hold my first crayola crayon.” Cori thought that her interest in art would take her in the direction of “animation or drawing story boards” for an advertising firm. Cori’s parents thought that she should pursue a more conventional career because art was not a “secure enough career”. Cori went to school on Vancouver Island for Early Childhood Education. However, at school she found herself practicing her “form line instead of doing my homework”. Cori returned home and worked in the Early Childhood field for a while until Haida art began to take over her life. Between 2003 and 2006 Cori attended three two-week design workshops with Robert Davidson.
Cori’s Early work. “The Light”
“If I had to pinpoint the moment that I knew I wanted to pursue the Haida art form it would have to be when I attended my first Pole raising and Potlatch. It was the memorial Potlatch for Skilaay (Ernie Collison)… Seeing the pole and then witnessing the dancing at the potlatch with all the regalia and masks brought to the life, the energy in the room…It put everything (Haida art) I had seen throughout my life into perspective. I knew what it meant after that, and I knew I had to do it. So I started drawing.”
When Cori was a teenager she worked for her mom Marlene at the gas station she managed at that time. Cori walked in one day to find her mother showing Reggie Davidson her sketchbook. She told me that she was completely mortified “I knew my designs were rudimentary…He just smiled and told me to keep working, keep studying, keep practicing.”
Cori’s mom later dragged her to Jimmy Harts where Cori got a job painting a house frontal for Jim Hart along with other artists. Of her time with Jim Hart Cori says, “I learned a lot about painting there. Jim showed us how to achieve that crisp line. I had done some painting on my own before then, but those little tricks I learned there made all of the difference.” In that same year Marlene took Cori to Reggie’s shop to ask for a painting job. That is when it all began. Following a job painting for Reg on a 50 ft pole Cori “asked Reg if he would be willing to take me on as an apprentice for carving. A few months later I showed up with my first set of carving tools. I’ve been there ever since then.”
One of Cori’s First masks “Blue Hawk”
What were your feelings when you started working with Reggie? Were you intimidated?
“Absolutely. Here was a man I had idolized, could only have dreamt of working with or learning from. Parents and family members are so quick to encourage, praise and tell you you’re great out of pride. Reg was quick to give me a reality check. But he was always quick to tell me when I was progressing, when he was happy with how I was doing or when I needed to get my head out of my butt. I learned to adapt to his style of teaching. As time went on we learned how to make a great team”
Cori’s early work Eagle Spirit Mask
I am always interested in how Haida artists decide what medium they would like to create. Whether that be weaving, painting, carving wood or jewellery, or all of the above.
I asked Cori if she had considered branching out into jewellery. Cori told me that she had contemplated learning about jewelery. “I even applied to the Native Education College in Vancouver and got accepted into their engraving program. Then I fell in love and moved to Skidegate.” Cori continued to work for Reggie in his Masset shop. Cori explained a concept I have heard before. That she thinks that it’s “important to master one medium before starting to learn another. I wasn’t ready for jewellery, I still had to master cedar. I’m still working on mastering cedar. I’d like to learn how to engrave one day. I won’t be going to NEC to do so though. I feel there is no better place to learn than from own masters.”
As a Haida person with an appreciation for Haida art I can understand Cori’s statement.
I believe that it is better to excel at one form of art than to be mediocre at all of them.
I think that Cori’s talent will translate to jewellery beautifully, if she decides that is the route she would like to take her art.
I asked Cori what it is that she loves most about being an artist and she told me that “everyday is different. A different project, a different challenge. If I get tired of carving, I paint something and vice versa. I get to create something everyday. That’s very fulfilling…Taking the plunge, or committing was the hard part. They say “starving artist” for a reason. You have to be willing to forgo that steady pay cheque. I knew I had to work for every penny, and I knew I had to focus and apply myself to learning, and I knew I had to show up at Reg’s every-day to learn and work. I guess after committing to it, the next step was getting used to those ideas, taking everything seriously, and letting go of any speck of ego to be able to absorb all that was taught to me.”
Cori has worked on several large-scale projects with other artists including a house front with Jim Hart, 6+ totem poles with Reggie Davidson, two totem poles with Ben Davidson. I know that these projects take a long time and involve working with other artists and masters. I asked Cori what it was like working with Reg on these large-scale projects? She said that “we laugh a lot in the studio. It’s always fun. Reg’s stories are great. Some are profound life lessons, some are carving stories or just plain funny. Those moments are my favourite. We can work hard to make deadlines, to do the job right, but we always have fun.”
Cori was a recipient of the YVR art foundation youth scholarship award in 2007.
In 2012 Cori received the YVR Frank O’Neil visionary scholarship award.
This year she was nominated for the BC Achievement Foundation’s First Nations Art Award.
However, she declined her nomination after learning that the award was funded by two LNG companies encana and spectra energy. That’s my girl!
I remember talking to my niece and nephews a couple of years ago. Little one’s have ideas about gender roles that are ingrained in them from a young age. It is a sad reality of the world that gender roles still play such a big role in our lives. After a comment by one of my nephews about carvers being male. I corrected him. I said that there are female carvers who are just as talented, motivated and strong as male carvers. I talked about Cori. Similarly there are male weavers who are just as incredible as female weavers, and I talked about my friend Aay Aay.
I asked Cori about what it is like being one of few female carvers.
Cori said that she has “never felt uncomfortable about it. There are different reactions, some can be condescending. Mostly those just make me work harder. I want my work to make me stand out, to speak for me, not my gender”.
Piece for group exhibition “Rezerect, Bill Reid Gallery 2013”
I went to the show opening for Rezerect, as I was still living in Vancouver when that show opened. I knew Cori had pieces in the show and I immediately went to find them. Every-time I see her pieces in galleries I geek out. I feel like telling people hey, my best good friend painted/carved that piece.
Don’t worry Cori I restrain myself from bragging about knowing you. I’ll leave that to your mom.
I have heard Reg talking about Cori’s painting abilities and how amazing she is.
Transforming Ravens. Acrylic on Canvas. 2013.
Left: Raven Paddle. Right: Eagle Transformation with Salmon.
As a Haida art admirer there are a lot of things that I notice when I examine pieces.
Over the years and especially in talking to artists I have come to understand the influence and importance of a master-apprentice relationship. A bad experience can lead an artist to stop pursuing their dreams. A good relationship can turn into a life-long friendship, an art family, someone who is there to answer questions no matter what.
Cori’s work has its own style but you can see the Davidson influence in her design.
I asked her what it was like to be finished her apprenticeship with Reggie and she replied beautifully about their friendship and working relationship.
“I don’t know if I am no longer an apprentice, but it feels like I get hired to work on projects because I’m at the level that Reg needs me to be at to work on said projects. I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning from him. I’ve put in 8 years of carving to his 35-40 + years of experience. You never really stop learning and growing into your art. He is my most valuable resource. He gives me constructive criticism, hands on teachings, things you can’t learn from books. He is a direct link to the old way of doing things, and that’s priceless. Sharing so much of his time and knowledge with me is priceless. I need to work hard to show that I’m not wasting his time, that what he teaches me is sacred, that I can one day pass it on and maintain the integrity of his teachings, of the art form, to another generation.”
Cori has worked with Ben Davidson. “First in 2013 on a pole job and the odd project over the years when things were slow at Reggie’s. Working for Ben took everything I had learned from Reg and combined it with what I learned from Ben. Everything that he had learned from Reg and Robert during his apprenticeship and pushed me to reach another level. He gave me a different perspective on the same teachings and encouraged me to hone in my skills and reach for that extra step. In terms of crispness of lines, clean finishing and the willingness to take that extra minute, hour, day, week to get it right, Ben really helped me up my carving game.”
The Davidson’s have had a major influence on Cori’s life and her art.
They tend to share their apprentices.
For them this is probably out of convenience. But their apprentices benefit from learning different approaches, techniques and styles. Cori “learned so much from Robert’s design courses and every time I see him now, he shares more cultural knowledge than I am able to retain. Language, clan histories, clan names, songs, etc. I consider Ben a mentor as well, I enjoy working with him and learning from him. The Davidson’s are unfailingly generous with their time and knowledge. Something I am deeply grateful for.”
I asked Cori if she had a favourite piece by another artist and she said that she is “absolutely in love with a print titled Echoes of the supernatural (96) by Robert Davidson.”
Echoes of the Supernatural (96). Robert Davidson.
In 2013 Cori was commissioned by the Council of the Haida Nation, West Coast Fishing Club and the Village of Masset and Old Masset Village Council to carve a 6×6 red cedar panel and gift it to the Vancouver Canucks. I remember getting progress photos of this project from Cori and texts about struggling to transport the piece to Vancouver.
Mulligan making a cameo in the design stages of the panel.
I was so impressed with this piece. It is visually stunning and beautifully crafted.
Cori came down for the unveiling of the piece to the Canucks.
We met for dinner and she told me that she had to get a haircut and wear makeup for this damn t.v. interview.
A lady after my own heart.
As we stuffed our faces classily and caught up on life,
I didn’t get a chance to tell her how proud I was of her and her accomplishments.
Cori and I have a friendship based on a mutual appreciation for the same things.
I asked Cori about her life outside of art.
“I love being on the water. If I am not working, I’m spending quality time with loved ones or going on adventures with my dog.”
A glimpse into our dog’s bro-mance & our friendship.
Cori and I went on a trip to Sgang Gwaay this summer.
My co-worker Sera and I happened to get on the same Haida Style Expeditions zodiac that Cori, her mom Marlene and Duane were on. I got to see the village through a different pair of eyes listening to Cori explain the totem poles from an artists perspective. At the time she was beating herself up for forgetting her sketchbook and asking Marlene to take photos so she could sketch later.
I asked her what that trip was like for her and she told me that it was “overwhelming. It was such a short trip, I would have liked to stay there for months just to absorb it all.”
Cori explaining a pole to Marlene.
I asked Cori if she had a favourite out of the pieces she has created or the projects that she has been a part of thus far. She said that her painting “Taawla” “has to be my favourite creation so far. I liked it so much that I kept it to myself for over a year to enjoy it before selling it. I liked it so much that I had to release a print of it. I would also consider every totem pole I have helped to carve to be a favourite. There is something special about creating something monumental.”
Taawla is also one of my favourites perhaps because it is rainbow (my crest) or because it is so intricately designed and painted.
I stared at it for a long time the first time I saw it, it is incredible.
Cori’s work is traditionally based but also modern in the right ways.
Her design ability, lines and attention to detail are all evidence of her commitment to Haida art and to learning from her masters.
I have asked Cori to design me a tattoo. She said yes but “don’t give me a time limit”. I don’t care when she is finished I know it will be beautiful.
Cori has designed some tattoos for family members and friends.
She designed this tattoo for her aunt Georgia.
This paddle is my absolute favourite piece that I have seen of Cori’s.
If I could I would buy it and hang it proudly on my wall for the rest of my life.
“Lights Out” 2014.
I asked Cori about her future with Haida art and she told me that she is “happy just paying my bills. I wanted to be able to make a living creating works of art and that’s exactly what I’m doing today. Do I think it will take me farther than that? Yes. But I don’t know how far. If nobody knows my name, but they see my work and can appreciate that it is well made Haida art, I’ll be happy. Cori plans on building her own studio. That studio is a part of home addition and renovation plans that are getting underway.
Raven Mask. Private Collection. Currently showing in Gina Suuda t’ll xasii at the Haida Gwaii Museum.
Cori is one of my best friends,
actually at this point I would include her little family in my Haida Gwaii family.
We hike, adventure, paddle board, adventure some more, cook and eat together.
I don’t clean my house when I invite her and Duane over.
That is true friendship.
We have the keys to each other’s houses.
We watch each others babies (dogs… for a couple more months).
Her fiance has accepted that he has to share her with me.
So we invite him to crash our dates sometimes.
Yahl’Aadas, Cori Savard is a powerful person,
an amazing artist,
and I cannot wait to see where her career takes her.
I know she will do amazing things and someday she will be an artists’ inspiration and mentor.
Haawa Cori. I can’t wait for the years to come.
Cori’s 4inch x 4inch piece for the Haida Gwaii Museum Fundraiser Saturday Sept. 27th 7 pm.
Blog written by Michaela McGuire, Photographer, Project Officer at GNC & HHC, & new-ish Skidegate resident.