Awatin Aboriginal Art is 100% Aboriginal owned partnership of Mowisaht and Mowisuksup. Mowisaht, Ernie Smith is a member of Ehattesaht with proud roots in We Wai Kai. Mowisuksup, Darlene Smith, is also a member of Ehattesaht who originates as an Algonquin from Quebec. The traditional names were given to them by the Ehattesaht house they belong to – House of the Grey Haired People. Ernie also carries the name Gwa-gwa- da-kan from his mother’s side.
The name of their business, Awatin means Eagle. The eagle logo was designed by Mowisaht. Ernie has been an Artist all his life, but set it aside to serve his community in various roles (Chief, Council, Forestry President) for almost 20 years. Then in 2015 he took the Metal Jewellery Design Course at North island College, he completed the 8-month certificate program with straight A’s and a desire to do more.
Ernie designs unique pieces creating rings, bracelets, pendants and earrings often fusing silver and gold with stones in unusual settings. All of his designs are engraved with Original Native Artwork. “I’m trying to do things differently than other artists,” says Ernie. He makes thick bracelets out of silver and even designed one incorporating a heavy chain known as a Cuban chain, this was inlayed with niobium and his favourite: yellow diamond. Ernie occasionally uses a special kind of metal known as Niobium to create his jewellery. “It’s a metal that doesn’t tarnish,” he says. “It’s almost like stainless steel but a lot more expensive.” The metal can be colored with electricity through a process known as anodizing which is also used on titanium. This changes the tone of the metal so the color is fused into it. “It’s a fairly new way of doing jewellery,” says Ernie.
Having served their community for so long, they knew what ever business they started they wanted it to welcome fellow Native Artists within the showcase. The Artwork must be authentic, why wouldn’t it be, after all there are so many well-known as well as undiscovered talented Aboriginal Artists. Awatin Aboriginal Art will share the rich culture of the Coast with customers worldwide. “We just decided it’s time to move on and pursue our own dreams,” says Darlene, who spent the past 16 years in bookkeeping and then as manager with Ehattesaht. Darlene will focus on managing the art business and is pursuing a BPA through Thompson Rivers University. She is focusing on business planning in her studies and applying that to the art store. Darlene says she and Ernie discovered they are ‘rock hounds’ so they will likely be adding a line of collector rocks to the store. They will also add artist’s supplies for carvers and jewelers to the store.
Ernie and Darlene are testing the demand for the various art works through different markets both local and afar.