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Indigenous Wood Carving returns to Kelowna campus this fall

Master carver and artist Darren McKenzie is once again setting up shop at Okanagan College with the goal of ingraining in students his passion for carving while also sharing his Indigenous knowledge and culture.

Carver Darren McKenzie

Beginners flocked to McKenzie's initial classes offered this spring, and the course is back and expanded by popular demand with sessions starting on Oct. 12.

"The first three sections went really well. All the classes were full, and we had a lot of positive feedback, suggestions on how to improve and a lot of students have said they wanted to come back and do more,” says McKenzie.

Indigenous Wood Carving will include basic carving techniques for those just starting out, as well as more challenging projects that may also include self-study.

"Once you learn to carve, then the sky's the limit. If a student has an idea for what they want to do, then I am happy to walk them through it," he says. "There's no need to have previous artistic knowledge or Indigenous carving experience."

The new Indigenous Wood Carving course will feature more power tools, shortcuts and secret tricks of the art form, as McKenzie walks students through a full project to completion.

"Normally I prep everything because it saves time. People expect to show up and start carving. But with this course, I'm going to show them more about layout, take them through the journey the long way, from start to finish," he explains.

Born in Regina, Saskatchewan, McKenzie is a Cree Métis artist who first embraced art in high school under the mentorship of well-known Prairie artist, Wilf Perreault. He developed skills as an illustrator and painter, and then studied commercial art in college, Indian Art History at the University of Regina, followed by illustration and sculpture at the Ontario College of Art. McKenzie moved to Vancouver where he began learning to carve wood under Salish artist Gerry Sheena in 1993, before attending the Gitanmaax School of Northwest Coast Indian Art and Design. It was at the Hazelton, B.C., school where he completed an intensive and culturally engrossing four-year apprenticeship under master carver Ken Mowatt.

The student has now become the master, and one keen to share his art form. McKenzie wants to ensure the course is inclusive to all – whether they have carving skills or not, or are new to Indigenous culture and knowledge. "It gets more voices out there and more people involved," he says.

The course runs two weekends in October on Friday nights and during the day on Saturdays and Sundays, from Oct. 12 - 28. Space is limited. Information is available at okanagan.bc.ca/indigenouscarving.