By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer, Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015
David A. Boxley (Alaskan Tsimshian) studies the old pieces. He listens to the passionate voices of the old masters. Create us again. Use us again. Celebrate us again.
He emulates these old masters as he carves, designs, sings and dances for the preservation of their ancestral teachings and cultural practices. He learned the language of his people from his grandfather who raised him. As a father to his own children, David tries hard to follow his grandfather’s example.
He works with his sons in the art of the masters, in celebrating their life-ways through the performance group he founded, Git Hoan Dancers (People of the Salmon). David writes songs in his Native language, and the group creates their own performance props — carved masks, rattles and paddles. Young people bring these pieces to life through dance. They have performed throughout the United States, Canada and Europe, sharing the rich culture of the Tsimshian.
David carves in the old Tsimshian style. The totem poles he’s created are found at the National Museum of the American Indian, Walt Disney World, and Knott's Berry Farm, among other places. There are more than a dozen of his poles in his home village, the place where revitalization of culture begins. David’s pieces — bentwood boxes, rattles, masks, prints and panels — are in collections of the king and queen of Sweden, the emperor of Japan, the president of West Germany, the mayor of Chongging (China), and Microsoft. The House Front (The Man Who Held Up the Earth) at the Sealaska Heritage Institute in Juneau, Alaska, is a major permanent exhibit that works to educate and share the Tsimshian culture.
Most of all, David lives the culture. Young people follow along. They celebrate together. He teaches youth to emulate the masters as he has done. To not fear putting their work in galleries, shows, exhibitions, and on the Internet. They should not be afraid to create, use, and celebrate.