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Aboriginal artist-in-residence coming to the Chilliwack Library

Jay Havens has a background in both mural-making and theatre, but this summer his artistic talents are bent towards creating a five-foot articulated puppet as one of FVRL’s Aboriginal artists-in-residence.  - Submitted
Jay Havens has a background in both mural-making and theatre, but this summer his artistic talents are bent towards creating a five-foot articulated puppet as one of FVRL’s Aboriginal artists-in-residence.
— image credit: Submitted

Aboriginal artist-in-residence Jay Havens will be at the Chilliwack library next Thursday, but he won’t be alone.

He’s bringing a five-foot puppet of a heron with him.

For Havens, the project takes place at a crossroads of theatre, visual arts and local culture.

“I feel like I’m just opening the door to something—a way of making and commenting on culture at the same time,” Havens says.

It was one of those lucky projects, he says, where the inspiration came looking for him.

Hiking up near Chehalis, he and a friend saw a heron hanging from a branch, dead.

“I originally thought that someone had been trapping and set a noose, just by the way it was hanging in the tree,” Havens says. “But we were so far from any path.

“The heron had been taking off or landing, I imagine, and it got caught by the neck by a branch—it ran into a branch, and it kind of snagged its neck. And it was just hanging there. The odds of that happening—”

Havens trails off, shaking his head. Finding the heron—dead, but still intact—is something he can only describe as “an experience.”

“It turned into a very in-depth discussion between the two of us,” he concludes. “We had to acknowledge that we were probably the only ones who were going to see this heron.”

Originally Havens’ proposal was for a raven puppet, but he was having difficulty wrangling the idea—the raven is tied more closely to northern aboriginal art, and is typically a trickster figure.

The heron, on the other hand, fit perfectly into the project—capturing the spirit of B.C.’s natural world.

But with the idea neatly salted away, Havens’ next challenge was figuring out how, exactly, to put it together.

The process and final goal  evolved as the puppet took shape—an inverted approach to the craft.

“When you’re working in the theatre arts compared to visual arts, the theatre art gives you a framework to work in, right? You’re provided with a script; you have to work within what that script needs to produce a play,” Havens explains. “I’m kind of coming at it from the other direction, where we don’t have a story yet—I’m making the sculpture first.”

And over the past month, as Havens toured the Fraser Valley Regional Library system as Aboriginal artist-in-residence, the puppet has started to take shape with a mixture of found materials and traditional methods.

“I’m kind of weaving the puppet,” he says with a laugh. “It’s kind of an interesting combination of materials, too—willow branches, bits of bamboo bought at the dollar store—just little pieces of things that I find and will work.”

He hopes the project and the tour will open a dialogue—about local lore, traditional practices, and the rich culture of the Fraser Valley.

“It’s a two-way process, a reciprocal process between myself and the audience,” Havens says. “I’m just exploring and seeing what comes to me.”

• Havens will be at the Chilliwack Library on Thursday, June 26 from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. as he works on his puppet. All are welcome to drop by for conversation or to watch.

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