Putting a unique twist on traditional crafts
Thunder Bay’s Ken Wabegijig usually tries to alter his designs every year to attract more interest to his traditional crafts.
“I try to be innovative, creative, a little different from everybody else,” Wabegijig said. “I’m always changing a little touch every time, just a little twist on things, whatever, because if someone wants to imitate me, I welcome that. I take that as a compliment, but then I do something a little different the next time.”
Wabegijig, whose mother is from Whitefish Lake and father is from Wikwemikong, has been creating a wide variety of traditional crafts, including beadwork, leatherwork and woodwork, for about 20 years.
“I do rattles, sometimes I do the odd pipe along the way,” Wabegijig said. “I do all kinds of dreamcatchers. And I’ve done lots of (smudge bowls).”
Wabegijig carves his smudge bowls out of hardwood burls that are dropped off at his home by people from around the city.
“Just recently, I had a contact with a city person who takes care of the trees,” Wabegijig said. “He said when they cut down the trees, he is going to try to give me the burls off the trees of the City of Thunder Bay.”
Wabegijig often discovers images inside the burls as he carves his smudge bowls.
“Eagle heads, wolf heads, people’s faces, profiles, everything,” Wabegijig said. “I never know what is inside there. Each piece is unique.”
Wabegijig usually tries to produce a wide variety of traditional crafts so he doesn’t fall into a rut.
“If I get tired of one thing, I go do another thing,” Wabegijig said. “So it takes a while before the cycle repeats itself.”
But he still managed to produce and sell about 50 rattles over the past year at $70 per rattle.
“That puts a lot of money in my pocket, but then I have to put it out again to buy the antlers from other people,” Wabegijig said. “I have to order the rawhide and get it shipped to me. But it’s all worth it in the long run.”
Wabegijig said the time and effort he puts into his traditional crafts has paid off.
“If you do quality work, if you take your time, if you put your enthusiasm into it, it is reflected in your work and the people see that.”
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