Rick Harry is, at 52 years old, living the artist's dream. His work is commissioned in countries as far away as the Czech Republic and China. He collaborates regularly with artists from all over the world. He travels to Scotland twice every year, carving in various communities. He is a renowned master carver and in the Squamish Nation, of which he is a part, he is something of a role model.
So, naturally, we wonder what the highlights of his 40-year career have been. And he says, very casually, very monotone: "I don't have a favourite, really. It's all just part of the experience."
Right. Gotta love the guy.
He says this while taking a break from carving a 25-foot welcome figure at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre, which will sit atop Whistler Mountain when it's done.
He's three days in. With the help of his son, James, and another carver, they work out a rough outline of the welcome figure, which, when all is chipped away, will be perched atop a whistling marmot, the rodent Whistler is named for. Unlike totem poles or house posts, this log tells no story. It's merely a welcome sign, with wooden arms spread wide open.
Harry is a modest artist and a simple man, which is refreshing in a time when many artists are tangled in self-analysis. His moves and his speech are deliberate and careful. Watching him carve a log is like watching a master chess player set up his opponent, a marksman setting up his shot.
He doesn't view the success he has achieved as an internationally- renowned artist as some great personal triumph. It's just something he does and he's amused that people know who he is. He carves because he likes it and he started carving because he liked how the carvings looked when he was a kid. He does it because that's how the energy flows out of him - not that he would say it like that, because he doesn't have a pretentious molecule in his body.
Nor does he hold any complex views about the world. "I look at everyone at an equal level," he said. "If someone's struggling on the street, I look at them on the same level (as) someone who's super wealthy. I look at them on a level place. We're all the same people. We're all human beings."
He says he was a "wild man" in his youth, scrapping and fighting anyone that looked at him cockeyed. At 27, he realized the route his life was headed and, with the help of his community and through his art, he has pulled himself out of it. Now, he teaches young people how to carry themselves in a more positive manner in a very complicated world. He doesn't go into specifics on the matter but we get the picture: he says uncomplicated things in a positive way to a group of confused, distracted young people.
"We get distracted," he said. "It's so easy to get distracted. It's easy to go to a movie or hang out at the beach."
But he hasn't been distracted, it seems. Shortly afterward, he climbs on and straddles the 25-foot log. He chips away at what will eventually be the legs of a sexless welcome figure. There's a flurry of some kind of white cotton-like pollen falling as he works. Then a black bear saunters across the parking lot, past the working station. He takes notice, regards the bear for a moment, and turns back to the log.
It's no big deal. Like he said, it's all part of the experience.