Internationally-renowned native sculptor Audrey Nanimahoo is leaving Revelstoke after the City of Revelstoke forced her to stop carving at her home last summer, she told the Times Review.
“To have my hands shackled and chained down and I can’t even do any of my art, it takes away all my self-esteem,” she said in an interview. “It got to the point it was so bad I was thinking thoughts of suicide.”
Nanimahoo announced her intentions in a letter she sent out to friends and customers on Monday. She is planning on moving to Malakwa, where she intends to purchase a home and turn it into a workshop and gallery. In the meantime, she has opened up her home at 413 Moss St. to visitors until Mar. 20.
“I would like to announce to you that the City of Revelstoke invaded my home on July 2010 and demanded that I no longer create my art work,” she wrote. “And if I continued, I would be charged a fee of $2,500 and would have to appear in court. They said ‘I was breaking a bylaw of noise, and creating mass production items in a residential area.'”
Nanimahoo said she’s been producing sculptures at her Southside home for eight years, during which time she created hundreds of pieces of sculptures based on native culture and imagery. The letter was a surprise.
“The response I have been getting is that a lot of people are extremely angry about what has happened to me,” she said. “In that sense it has given me more strength in a way.”
Nanimahoo’s saga began in July when a city official left her a voicemail saying she would have to stop carving.
She said she obeyed the order but six weeks letter got an angry call from city planning director John Guenther threatening her with a $2,500 fine and a date in court. She said she was denied her business license renewal and also looked at moving somewhere else in town but was met with numerous roadblocks. She tried to meet with Guenther and did meet several times with Revelstoke mayor David Raven.
“It just became a communications issue. She thought we were saying things that we weren’t,” Raven said. “We said, ‘You try to find some place and we’ll try to work with you.'”
“She seemed to think we had an obligation to search and allow her activities within that neighbourhood and that’s contrary to the zoning and the bylaws that were placed there.”
John Guenther said the city received only one complaint, He said Nanimahoo’s carving activities at her home violated zoning bylaws.
“She does her business in a residential area and she does some pretty heavy grinding on the outside,” he said. “That’s what the complaint was – dust and noise.”
He added the city was still willing to work with her.
“It’s a very unfortunate, very difficult situation and I hate to see her leave the community because she has been an asset to the community for all these years,” said mayor Raven.
For Nanimahoo, sculpting is a very spiritual process, where the images of what she carves appear to her in the stone before she starts. Not being able to carve has created lots of anguish for her.
“It’s for my soul; I need to have this for my whole being. Also, it’s my heritage and it’s my culture and it’s me.”
The whole process for her, from selecting the stone to the carvings has a spiritual element for her. The concept of the animal spirit guide is prominent in her work. Many pieces feature a human image on one side and an animal face on the other.
One carving features a warrior with a white wolf connected to it; the wolf being sacred. “It’s an omen when you see one.”
Another piece, called ‘Guardians and Angels’ features a grizzly bear on one side opposed by an angel opposite it. Both are symbols of protection.
Many of her sculptures feature grizzly bears, which are of great significance to Nanimahoo. They are her spirit guide. As a child, she used to have dreams of a bear chasing her. When she asked an elder about the bear, he said she had to acknowledge the bear in person. Four days later she came face to face with a grizzly.
“Fortunately I was in a boat. We connected eyes and, ‘Oh my God!’ it was the most powerful animal I ever met.”
Nanimahoo has not done any carving since July, she said. “I tried to go into my shop a few weeks ago but I couldn’t do it. I kept looking over my shoulder. I thought the city would show up.”
She said she is trying to move on and get back to doing what she loves.
“I don’t like focusing on negative things. I want to get back in my positive realm and focus on my art work.”