Guy Louie Jr

Carving A Career in the Arts: How Guy Louie Jr Moved on From Carpentry After Cancer

“Be respectful, love, and work your butt off to achieve anything that you want,” says Guy Louie Jr. He is from Ahousaht and from Nuu-chah-nulth Nation, a traditional singer, artist, and father of eight children who was born and raised in Victoria, British Columbia. For the past three years, he’s been practicing carving. Before becoming a carver, he was a carpenter for 18 years. After two years in treatment for cancer, he lost motivation for carpentry work and his partner was starting to get into carving. He went to pick up the knives she had made and Moy Sutherland Jr, the maker of the knives, offered him an apprenticeship. 

Unsure if it was too late to move into a new career, he sat with the offer for a few days before committing to the process. He saw it as the next step in pursuing his culture, given he had been singing traditionally since he was a teenager. Also, through carving, he could make his own pieces for dances, make pieces for others and make a living off of them.

His apprenticeship was paid but the wage difference from his construction salary was big. At the same time, he was very tired of working in construction and he needed to make a move. What he brought from the construction site was meticulous attention to detail and perfectionism trained into him by his boss over the years. He learned not to cut corners and that has served him well in preparing paddles, panels and anything else he’s creating. Over time his apprentice wages increased and he was able to work more independently as he gained skills and confidence. 

Sutherland wasn’t his first artistic mentor, as he had the chance to study Indigenous art in elementary school, learning to trace and draw designs onto panels to paint. He started in fourth grade and continued on into junior high. The classes taught by Victor Newman of Kingcome were once a week.  

Over the coming years, he’s looking to build his skills and abilities and put himself out there more as an artist. He also wants to found a gallery space given galleries take a large cut of artist profits. Having a space where people can sell their work at a minimal cost is something he sees as being supportive of the artist community. 

Through the canoe journeys in Campbell River, Louie met his collaborator Micahel Frease. Frease taught him how to prepare the red abalone from the shells instead of just buying it online pre-made, a practice which he feels brings more appreciation. He’s learned from Frease and also from Sutherland, who taught him traditional and contemporary formline. Working with Sutherland, he would observe his mentor's work and then he would work and he would work under observation, with corrections made as needed. Over time, he picked up his mentor’s ways and has been able to create his own unique pieces. 

His advice for youth aspiring to become artists is, “Just do it. If it’s in your heart, just do it. But you’ve got to work hard, like anybody has in any career. You’ve got to work hard to have the best outcome. You have to give it 100%.” He acknowledges it’s scary to take the leap and he spends a lot of time perfecting his craft. His partner understands because she’s an artist as well but the long hours combined with travel can take a toll on their relationship at times. “Being an artist takes a full time commitment,” he explains. Having a good support system is important to his success.  

"Being an artist takes a full-time commitment"

As an artist, one of the obstacles he faced was his own commitment to his craft and pushing himself to practice daily. His mentor urged him to sketch daily but he describes his mind at the time as being “lazy”. He thrived in physical education but academically he struggled. Putting in the work to complete a quality product was a challenge for him until he adopted a practice of only leaving the garage where he carves to make money or help families through losses. 

If he could give a message to his younger self it would be, “Work towards being more responsible.” He wouldn’t change the past, but he would tell himself to be more responsible. Louie has been sober for eleven years now and when he was drinking, he wasn’t taking responsibility for his family and would leave them to go drink.  “All the people that I've encountered, all the things that I've encountered, the struggles, the good things, have brought me to where I am today, and I wouldn't change it,” he muses. 

To keep his mental health in check, Louie enjoys driving, drinking coffee, listening to music, singing, attending sweats, sitting with his kids, and riding bikes with them. He’s inspired by all the Indigenous people wanting to make a difference in their children’s lives and their own lives, to become better people and make their parents proud. He’s inspired by people taking steps to learn traditional ways and by decolonization. He wants to teach his kids to be comfortable with their emotions, talking about them and showing love to others. 

Being respectful, loving, and working his butt off to achieve anything that he wants, Guy Louie Jr moved from carpentry to carving after cancer. He took the next step in pursuing his culture,  learned from a talented mentor and found a collaborator who inspired him. Finding the discipline and the skills to succeed, he’s carving a career in the arts for himself and dreams of a future where he can support other artists, too.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
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  • Province/Territory
    British Columbia
  • Date
    March 28, 2024
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