British Columbia

Siblings create large artworks in secret locations in northern B.C.

Nature provides all the materials needed to build large-scale images best viewed from the air.

Gitxsan brother and sister create Indigenous formlines along riverbanks

Gitxsan sibling artists Alex and Michelle Storey are creating large-scale Indigenous formlines from materials found at secret sites along northwest B.C. rivers. (Alex Stoney)

From the ground, the work of Gitxsan artists Alex and Michelle Stoney might look like little more than a collection of driftwood and rocks scattered along the shore. 

But from the air, in photos taken with a drone, lines and forms emerge to reveal large-scale Indigenous artworks. 

The pieces, known as formlines, have been created at secret sites along the Bulkley and Skeena rivers. But photos of the creations have been shared all over social media. 

The idea for the project came to artist Alex Stoney while he was walking with his dog along the river's edge. 

"I noticed these circles made from rocks. Some were larger than others," the Gitxsan photographer said. "That's when it clicked: a northwest coast formline in rocks and other natural materials would look amazing."

Gitxsan sibling artists Alex and Michelle Stoney, and friends, photographed in The Hand, a large-scale Indigenous formline they created from natural materials found along the Skeena River in northwestern B.C. (Alex Stoney)

Alex headed back to the site with his artist sister, Michelle Stoney, and, with the help of Alex's wife, they began creating Indigenous images from whatever the earth provides.

Waves, wind and runoff do the initial work, and inspire the imagery on each specific site the team stumbles upon.

The team begins by drawing an outline of the image with sticks in the sand. Immovable boulders and logs can form a foundation; growing plants add spots of colour to the composition. 

Then the hard work begins. Rocks and driftwood and materials found nearby are moved into place. 

Alex Stoney then captures the image from the air using drones.

They first work they created, The Hand, took over 16 hours to complete.

A storm or high water can destroy the art overnight. Impermanence is an intended part of the art.

So, why bother doing it?

"It gives me a sense of accomplishment, a feeling of doing something with my hands," Alex Stoney told CBC Daybreak North's Carolina de Ryk.

Their second and most recent design, the profile of a woman, came from a subtle shoreline shift and was created with Mother's Day in mind. 

"The driftwood had moved and it kind of had formed a wavy line. Michelle thought that line looked like hair, and gave her the inspiration to create a design that looks like a woman with wavy hair," said Alex.

The family is familiar with using gifts of the earth in their art. Michelle Stoney's carved pumpkins get rave reviews on social media.

Gitxsan artist Michelle Stoey carves pumpkins with traditional northwestern B.C. Indigenous forms. (Facebook / Michelle Stoney)

Alex is now working with a teacher in Kispiox who wants to create a formline with their class. 

And the team will get back to the riverbanks this summer to tackle the complex design of a spawning fish.

"That's probably going to be the most difficult design we've done to date," he said. "I'll look forward to doing it." 

Tap the link below to hear Alex Stoney's interview on Daybreak North:

With files from Daybreak North