Over the course of artist Carey Newman’s career, he’s been carving a path for reconciliation.
Newman grew up in Sooke and at age 12 started selling his work at the local museum, as well as at the Sooke Fine Arts Show.
“I’ve been doing art since I was five years old, but those were two really big moments in my life, where I earned what I considered a significant amount of money for my work,” he said.
Coming from a long line of First Nation artists and carvers, becoming an artist was a natural fit for him. Newman creates various pieces in various mediums from jewelry and wood carvings to stone sculptures and totem poles.
“I make Indigenous art, that is sort of the basis of it, but I do everything from prints to full-scale totems,” he said. “At different times I like different mediums for different reasons, but I think the one that I always go back to is wood carvings. It’s very satisfying, working with wood and in honour of my ancestors.”
Art is an outlet for Newman and he loves to challenge himself when creating a new piece.
“Each piece has meaning behind it. I ask questions to who I’m working with and shape my pieces off that.”
Over the years Newman’s style has evolved. He never had a goal of creating art for reconciliation, it just sort of happened.
“I have been doing this for over 30 years, and more recently I have been doing projects that are more community involved, such as the Witness Blanket,” he said.
The “blanket” is a wooden installation made out of hundreds of items from residential schools, churches, government buildings and cultural structures.
Newman travelled across Canada, meeting with more than 10,000 people, hearing their stories and gathering items for the blanket. A documentary was created along the way to help share the stories and spread the truth around what took place in residential schools.
“Each piece on the blanket has a story, but it also opens up conversation and memories of those who look at it,” he said. “My father was in a residential school, so I wanted to do something that told the whole story.”
The Witness Blanket has been toured across the country to educate people, and largely because of this project, Newman received an Order of B.C. award recently.
“I am humbled and I recognize the honour of this award, but I am hesitant to celebrate when there is so much work left to be done,” he said, giving an example that over 100 reserves still don’t have clean drinking water.
“Before the Witness Blanket, I thought reconciliation meant bringing people together, but as I heard the stories, I better understood the damage that was caused.”
Newman plans to continue doing pieces that engage the community, to be a voice for Indigenous people, and hopes that his work will leave a lasting impact on society.
He recently accepted a position as an art professor at the University of Victoria, which he will begin this fall.
“This project changed what I feel is important and I can’t turn it off. I want to use this voice I have now to continue to speak about truth,” he said.
“The world is a crazy place these days, and history shows that in a time of craziness, art is so important. I want to use it to send a message. I’m sprinting to keep up with the ideas in my head, I want to get them all done before I run out of time.”