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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Thunder and being : attribution, continuity, and symbolic capital in a Nuxalk community Smith, Christopher Wesley


This ethnography investigates how Nuxalk carpenters (artists) and cultural specialists discursively connect themselves to cultural treasures and historic makers through attributions and staked cultural knowledge. A recent wave of information in the form of digital images of ancestral objects, long-absent from the community, has enabled Nuxalk members to develop connoisseurial skills to reinterpret, reengage, and re-indigenize those objects while constructing cultural continuity and mobilizing symbolic capital in their community, the art market, and between each other. The methodologies described in this ethnography and deployed by Nuxalk people draw from both traditional knowledge and formal analysis, problematizing the presumed binary division between these epistemologies in First Nations art scholarship and texts. By developing competencies with objects though exposure and familiarity, Nuxalk carpenters and cultural specialists are driving a spiritual and artistic resurgence within their community. One example of a traditional knowledge being returned to the Nuxalk is the “carpenter’s mark,” a crease on the palms of some carpenters connecting them to supernatural events and prominent ancestors who shared this rare physical feature. Through case studies and interviews, this thesis demonstrates that 1) Nuxalk carpenters and community members build and mobilize relationships to ancestral carpenters and iconic objects as cultural and symbolic capital, 2) Nuxalk carpenters have indigenized aspects of formal art analysis in their engagements with objects and images of objects in developing connoisseurial skills that draw coequally from traditional ways of knowing and formalism and 3) the carpenter’s mark, a single transverse palmar crease, serves as a physical connection between historic and contemporary carpenters and is a vehicle for both continuity and symbolic capital.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International