Master Haida artist Jim Hart is putting the finishing touches on the largest-ever commission of his 30-year career: a massive red cedar carving at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Hart and his team began mounting his cedar carving The Dance Screen at the gallery in December.

It's been a interesting engineering feat as the total work — encompassing seven sections — weighs about 1,360 kilograms and measures nearly five metres wide by more than three metres high.

"We've been working on it just about two years…Now, we're seeing it [set] up for the very first time," he told CBC News on Thursday evening, as a team raised the final section to the top of the screen.

"Now that it's all together, I want to tweak here and there a little bit more."

The Dance Screen dates back to a proposal made about four years ago, when an art collector approached the esteemed artist and chief to carve a large wooden screen for a private collection.

After some discussion, they agreed he would create a work that has since become the largest commission of Hart's career.

The screen is carved from rare red cedar salvaged from a Haida Gwaii site charred by a forest fire more than 120 years ago. It features depictions of salmon — its main motif — and a variety of symbolic animal figures, as well as an oval doorway through which ceremonial dancers might pass.

"Time flies… all of a sudden I'm getting old. I look around and it's taken me a lot of years to put it together and hone these secrets," mused Hart, who as a young man worked with artistic elders such as Robert Davidson and Bill Reid.

Hart created The Dance Screen with the help of several younger artists, so as to help pass the torch to the next generation.

"It takes some time to develop," he explained. "It's a process."

The Dance Screen, on loan to the Vancouver Art Gallery, will remain on display in 2013 as Hart completes the now-mounted piece. A formal inauguration is slated to take place in mid-February.


Artist Jim Hart, second from left, poses with his Dance Screen carving team (from left): Carl Hart, John Brent Bennett and Brandon Brown. (Rachel Topham/Vancouver Art Gallery)