A Heavy Responsibility, A True Privilege

By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer, Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015

Traditional woodcarver, painter and jeweler, David R. Boxley (Ts'msyen) is a past Community Spirit Award honoree. He often partners with his father to travel around the world with their dance group, Git-Hoan Dancers, and for raising totem poles. A well respected artist and prominent leader of his generation, David is a 2017 Cultural Capital fellow. He resides in Metlakatla, Alaska.

David R. Boxley (Ts'msyen). Image courtesy of artist. 

David R. Boxley (Ts'msyen). Image courtesy of artist. 

Drawing lessons at age four. Carving at six. David R. Boxley was the first of his generation to hold a traditional potlatch in his village. He doesn’t take the privileges given to him lightly. His life and his art are dedicated to bringing back his People’s culture, to saving their language for this generation and the next. His work lives and breathes a connection into their past, present and future. 

David has big shoes to fill. His father, David A. Boxley, is a well-respected artist and culture bearer in their community. He’s passing his strength and wisdom on to his son so David R. can live and grow and think his culture.

It’s been a rewarding journey. Along the way, David was commissioned to carve and raise his grandmother’s memorial totem pole, and create the Tsimshian house front for Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Walter Soboleff Center. He and his dad collaborated on a totem pole for the National Museum of the American Indian. But as he’s worked to help revive his people’s traditions, David has found it difficult to educate his own tribe on the sheer amount of masterpieces their ancestors created that are now scattered around the world. It’s time to bring them home. 

He’s preparing to go out and find the great art of his People. With his Cultural Capital fellowship, David is working with his business partner, award-winning artist, weaver and beader Kandi McGilton (Tsimshian), to seek out collections at museums in Ottawa, Toronto, Victoria, Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. Kandi and he will measure, touch, and know the hidden details in the pieces, then choose objects and replicate them for their community to see at home. This is their way to bring these pieces back. To restore them.

The exhibit in their longhouse will help David’s community develop a deep sense of pride, ownership and understanding — where they come from, who they are. That the Tsimshian people were, and are, capable of great things.