North

Yukon's royal carver: First Nations artist makes gift for Prince William

Keith Wolfe Smarch of Carcross is no stranger to the British royal family: in 2001, he presented a carved mask to Prince Charles in Yukon. On Wednesday, he'll meet Prince William. 'Maybe he can say hi to his father for me.'

Keith Wolfe Smarch also presented a carving to Prince Charles during 2001 Yukon royal visit

Tlingit carver Keith Wolfe Smarch at work on a large totem pole. He has carved a smaller one to be presented to the royals when they visit Carcross on Wednesday. (Sandi Coleman/CBC)

When renowned Tlingit carver Keith Wolfe Smarch meets Prince William in Carcross, Yukon, on Wednesday, he'll get to show the young royal how he practises his craft.

He'll also get to reminisce about his last royal encounter, 15 years ago.

"I'm definitely going to bring up his father," Smarch said. "Maybe he can say 'hi' to his father for me."

Smarch presented Prince Charles with a carved mask during the Prince's 2001 Yukon visit. Smarch was also invited to the royal dinner that year.

Smarch also made a carving for Prince Charles, and presented it to him during the royal visit to Yukon in 2001. (Submitted by Keith Wolfe Smarch)

The mask is now part of the Buckingham Palace art collection, something Smarch calls "the highlight of my career."

"So having his son come here now is really a surprise and it's going to be quite an honour," Smarch said.

Like his father, Prince William will be going home with an original Smarch carving — a small totem pole, featuring a killer whale and a character called Gunar.

"[Gunar] was the one that created the killer whale in the beginning," Smarch said. 

Royals to visit carving shed

Smarch has been burning the midnight oil to finish his carving in time for the royal visit to Carcross.

"With Prince Charles, they gave me a year's notice. With Prince William, I only had, like, two and a half, three weeks notice ... but I got it done.

"You work good under pressure."

The Khà​ Shâde Héni of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation (chief) Andy Carvill will officially present the carving, but Smarch will have a few minutes with the royals when they visit his carving shed afterwards.

Smarch with his son and grandson, who are learning the art of carving. 'The whole point of what we're doing here is we're trying to carry on a tradition.' (Heather Jones)

He says he'll have about five to six minutes to chat with Will and Kate and show them his work, including a 12-metre pole that he and his son Aaron have been working on for a year. It will ultimately go to the First Nation's learning centre.

"We're going to surprise them and see if they'll do a little something on it for us, too," Smarch said. "They don't know that yet!"

Smarch said he feels lucky to be a part of two royal visits, and being able to showcase and promote Tlingit culture to two future Kings.

"It's quite an honour to have that. I don't think I know many people that have two pieces in the royal collection," Smarch said.

"The whole point of what we're doing here is, we're trying to carry on a tradition."

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will tour the Carcross Commons during their visit on Wednesday. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

With files from Sandi Coleman

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