Lambert Goldsmith carves his people’s myths and history as well as his own experiences.
The Duncan man runs a stand near the old mound on Government Street where he sells his carvings of Cowichan First Nation totems and masks, crafts and blankets, having rediscovered his childhood interest in carving after retirement.
“I took early retirement so I could get back into carving,” said Goldsmith, who retired in 2012 after over 30 years of working in the salmon hatchery on Boys Road.
Goldsmith, 63, first began carving at eight years old, taught by his father Raymond, who had been taught by an older relative. On days when his father was busy working as a logger, he would tell Lambert to go learn from renowned local carver Simon Charlie who lived a few doors down.
“Simon Charlie would go out of his way every day to make sure we had something to do. He’d literally shape these out for us and all we had to do is put the design in,” Goldsmith said, adding that he’d then go and sell his carvings for pocket money.
Charlie also told them founding myths of the Cowichan nation, something Goldsmith depicts, for example, in his Thunderbird totem pole.
“The people at the bottom here, they’re waiting for the salmon to return but they never returned, they migrated. So what the people did is went all the way downstream to see what the problem was,” Goldsmith explained.
“The people ended up all the way down in Cowichan Bay and when they got to Cowichan Bay there was this killer whale just eating them and preventing them from coming up. So they — I don’t know if it was a shaman — prayed to Thunderbird to come take the killer whale away. He’s the only one powerful enough to pick up a killer whale. So Thunderbird came and picked up the killer whale and dropped it. Over by those mountains is where it’s supposed to be. When Thunderbird removed the killer whale, the people got their salmon back.”
Goldsmith’s big future plan includes doing a 15-foot Thunderbird totem pole. He’s currently inquiring about where he can display it when it’s complete.
“This is going to be like my model totem pole,” he explained of the smaller carving.
Goldsmith uses cedar, yellow cedar, white pine and alder to carve, obtaining his wood from several sources, including a friend for whom he carved a walking stick in return for good pieces of cedar wood, donations and lumberyards. Goldsmith shapes the wood with a carving knife and adze, or power saw for larger pieces then knifes and chisels in details.
“I carve it, shape it, sand it, then paint it,” he said.
Another piece shows a mother bear feeding salmon to her cub, while another, the Moon Mask (at a price of $1,200), depicts the moon surrounded by a male and female salmon, with abalone shells as eyes and stars.
“The reason I always put them together is because it’s known from the old people that anytime there’s a full moon and a high tide the salmon will come up the river,” said Goldsmith.
Then there are carvings based on personal experience such as a small grey mask called Lightning Shadow representing a spirit that comes out during lightning storms that Goldsmith and his friends were warned about by his grandfather. They saw it themselves one day during a lightning storm — a shadowy grey figure that ran between two trees.
Pieces sell from $30 and up into the hundreds and thousands. Some carvings take months to make, while others may take only several days. Goldsmith spends weekday afternoons at his spot on Government Street and weekends taking part in the Songhees First Nation market outside the B.C. legislature in Victoria.
Being artistic runs in Goldsmith’s family, who all love the work he does. His wife Phyllis and daughter Caroline also make dreamcatchers for him to sell at his stand, and his sister Kathy knits Cowichan sweaters and winterwear for him to sell during the colder months. His daughter Talia has also worked with him painting his carvings and now lives in London, Ont. where her work has been displayed locally and featured on the news.
Talia said she has great pride in her father and what he does.
“He has a beautiful, well-established style,” Talia said. “He’s such a huge inspiration to me.”