Algonquin artist Wayne Poison smiles when recalling his first sale: a wooden Indian face trimmed with beaver fur. The American tourist’s well-spent three dollars were well-spent in turn by the six-year-old artist at the local chip stand.
Poison began carving at the impossibly young age of five in his hometown of Winneway. He started with simple wooden crucifixes which he would stain brown with the flame from a torch. “I look at them today and I feel it wasn’t me who made those,” he says.
Today, his medium is bone, antlers, animal hide, porcupine quills and the decidedly more modern glass beads. Out of these he fashions miniature bald eagle heads, feathers, broaches, barrettes, clocks, letter openers, knife handles and sculptures of eagles in flight with fish trapped in their talons.
“My most unusual piece was a pool cue,” says Poison. The pool cue handle was a dragon carved from moose bone with fiery red eyes and fire from its gaping mouth. That was quickly picked up by an Abitibi collector and is probably hanging in his basement poolroom.
Wayne also works with oil on canvas and prefers abstracts of wildlife. If his paintings are anything like his carvings you want to see them.
Entering Wayne’s cluttered basement studio in Waskaganish one can hear the whine and whir of his high-speed rotary drills and smell the burning bone. In one corner sits a pile of antlers and dry white bones from caribou, moose and geese. “I’ll sometimes sit for two hours looking at a piece… visualizing,” he says of his collection.
With effortless ease he transforms a small piece of bone into an art object that can be worn or displayed.
Like most Native artists Wayne is self-taught and learns by “working with other artists, sharing ideas.” And just practicing.
Indeed Wayne can sometimes be found in his small studio until five in the morning touching up an eagle’s eye or just looking at a simple piece of bone waiting, it seems, for it to tell the artist what it wants to be.