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Queen of the stone age

Darlene Allison has been carving stone for 14 years, and will be sharing her process with students and patrons of the Fraser Valley Regional Library as one of two Aboriginal artists-in-residence this June.   - Submitted
Darlene Allison has been carving stone for 14 years, and will be sharing her process with students and patrons of the Fraser Valley Regional Library as one of two Aboriginal artists-in-residence this June.
— image credit: Submitted

Today Darlene Allison is working outside, roughing out the shape of the carvings and completing some preliminary wet polishing. It’s the first nice day after a patch of rain, and after her power tools spin down the sounds of children playing float across the yard.

“I prefer to work by hand,” she says, sunshine slipping into her voice. “You can feel the stone and you take your time. You can hear the sound of the files and the chisels.”

“It’s almost magical.”

Allison is one of two Aboriginal artists-in-residence at Fraser Valley Regional Library (FVRL) this summer, pairing with Jay Havens on a cross-valley library tour over the month of June. She’ll be kicking off the tour in Chilliwack this Monday, June 2, at 10 a.m., while Havens starts in Langley and will make his way to Chilliwack at the end of June.

Allison will be bringing two carving projects with her on her library tour this summer, but don’t worry—she promises to leave the power tools at home.

“I didn’t want to make a big mess in the library. It’s not the cleanest hobby I’ve got here,” she says with a laugh. “They’ll get a chance to see all the tools I use when I work by hand. I’m not bringing in my compressor.”

Her two FVRL carvings are relatively small at 35 pounds each, but she has a couple larger projects in the works for the rest of the summer, including delicate work on a piece of local stone weighing 208 pounds. The finished product will be a school of salmon, gently curving with the shape of the rock.

“It’s going to be in a lace-like pattern, so you’ll see in between each of them,” she describes. “It’s a very beautiful stone—delicate, too, so it doesn’t like vibrations from power tools.”

The smaller FVRL projects will be a little faster to finish, helped along by student and patron participation at the library. As part of her library visits, Allison will give a demonstration in wet polishing—one of the final stages —and then get the audience to try their hand at it.

“I’d like to be able to bring it to the finished stage with them so they can see the different colours of the stone,” she says.

This is the first time FVRL has invited aboriginal artists to summer residencies, but library programs co-ordinator Kim Davison says they hope it won’t be the last.

“The point of the program is to try to build trust and strengthen relationships, build some more cultural understanding,” she says. “Our libraries are on different First Nations traditional land, and we just wanted to bring people of all cultures in our communities together around these local cultures and these local artists.”

• Allison will be at the Chilliwack library branch on Monday, June 2 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the tour kick-off. Havens will be at the Chilliwack library on June 26 with the same hours. See www.fvrl.bc.ca or the FVRL program guide for a full list of tour dates and program information.

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