Artist Robert Davidson, whose work is featured in the exhibition The Coe Collection of American Indian Art (on view December 6, 2011–October 14, 2012), discusses the artwork of his ancestors.
Robert Davidson: When I first started to carve, with my dad and my grandfather, in order for me to learn I had to copy them. It took me several years to finally establish my own style.
The noble lady embodies a lot of lessons I learned over the years. The negative space is as important as the positive space. The artist who has advanced in knowledge within the art form understands that intuitively. That being on the forehead is what I call Kugan Jaat; the soul or the spirit of the design. There's no symbolic meaning to the mask other than exploring design possibilities on the forehead. I'm not expanding Haida art, but I'm expanding my understanding of the art form and that's where the real excitement is. I'm working more and more to simplify but still keeping the integrity of the art form. For the artists, who want to learn from the old masters we have an incredible pool of images to draw from through the museums. Unlike the language, the art is on its own by the visual appearance.