Thoughts on Carving a Mammoth Tusk

Millennium... Multiracial world working together... I have been thinking of carving a large sculpture out of a mammoth tusk, an idea sparked by a random conversation with Stewart Schmidt in the Whitehorse Airport, when he asked if I had ever considered carving one. I envision carving a series of overlapping hands...

The idea is to represent something on the tusk of our multiracial world working together to build a life on the planet in cooperation with each other and in a tolerant spirit. The tusk represents the earth, old, eternal, alive, living, fragile, extinction, hope. The dawn of humanity.

The hands that I would carve on the tusk, in different shades of brown, given the different shades of brown in the ivory, represent humankind at the turn of the second millennium working together, arranged in a kind of spiral form, representing something eternal, representing something progressive, as we learn to build a life together on earth in a sustainable way for the next thousand years, so that a thousand years from now our ancestors will celebrate the turn of the third millennium. And the piece will be dedicated to them.

It is important that the hands are identifiable, at least to me, so I should take pictures of the hands that I use. I may also use textures on the hands for veins et cetera. Old, young, weak and strong, crippled, mechanical, abstract...

Human energy...

The sculpture should also contain something of our technology: pyramids, boats, planes, ships, pen, paper, computers, rockets, satellites, stone tools, crops, hunting, bronze, printing press, paint brush, hammer and chisel.


“The tusk was laid down in a creek bed at the dawn of humanity. I use it now to remind us of our humble beginnings at a time when these creatures, strange and magnificent, came to the end of their reign on earth. We move forward, aware of their fate, learning from them that life is fragile, that there are no guarantees in the eternal drama of Creation. Here’s to a future in which we prosper as a global people with Creation as partner, not subject.”


I am at the airport in Vancouver, getting set to wend my way back to Whitehorse. I’m sitting before Bill Reid’s bronze “Myth of Haida Gwaii.” It is a magnificent piece. I hope to emulate his success in my own way, quality not quantity, precision of detail, and a sense of the human community and natural world.


I think I should stick with the hands idea alone for the tusk, and leave out the technology aspect, unless I incorporated the basic tools that have made a difference to humanity in one way or another. No, no, keep it pure.


On the plane now, just had an idea regarding the tusk. The hands could go as a strip winding around the tusk on an angle in conjunction with another strip of abstract planes and within the strip of planes or perhaps joining the strip of planes to the hands every now and then a piece of technology held by the hands and detailed in the abstract strip. The strip would provide continuity for the hard shapes of technology, and may even express thought itself, mind perhaps. The hand and mind have been linked since the beginning of our time, together creating life as we know it.

I think I would leave the last part of the tusk, the tip, in its natural state to represent the future we have yet to create, or, perhaps hope itself. Leaving the tip in its natural state would give the viewer a good chance to see the tusk in its original form; for that matter, the root of the tusk should also be left in the same natural state, to symbolize the time before man. Perhaps, in the rough to contrast with the tip which could instead by highly polished? The past is unknown but finished. The other has yet to be, and so is perfect, like hope...

For writing, as technology I can carve actually 3D letters as well as pens et cetera. What about language?


Well, I can’t believe I did it, but I did. I bought the real thing, one humongous mammoth tusk with a good curve and a nice tip. There were more tusks to choose from, however not in as good shape as this one. It will need some tender care to get it to the pre-carving state. I should travel to Dawson to talk with the fellows who have experience with such things.

Stewart did not take payment; he wanted me to check with the Yukon Government first, to see if it is legal to buy and sell mammoth tusks. If so, the tusk is well seasoned and weighs 140 pounds dry. It is $40 per pound, so that works out to $5600 dollars, more than I’ve got at the moment.

I am so excited my thoughts are coming in staccato.


I have learned that mammoth ivory in the Yukon is between 12,000 and 40,000 years old. It’s okay to use for carving and exporting. The local archaeologists and government officials want to see the ivory used locally, particularly in the Yukon by Yukon carvers.

All other remains of uncovered Ice Age animals are 'owned' by the government -- they cannot be sold, but the finder is entitled to retain custody in the Yukon.

Art, Time and The Idea

Further thoughts about art - I have had more ideas for animal groups, with tangle blocks, lines, circles et cetera for background, or as part of the surface texture of the animals.

I’ll start tracking the time I spend on each piece.

It occurred to me yesterday that the creative process is central to an artist. Technique is secondary, secondary because it can be worked on and improved, whereas the 'idea' is that from which all else flows.

How Little Importance

It is done. The letters have been delivered.

It is amazing to me and somewhat comforting to discover how little people actually care that I have resigned my ministry.

There is a tremendous freedom from obligation, which I have usually imagined, to follow one’s heart and no excuse to do otherwise. To say my life is my own is for me both joyous and empty. I have laboured under the impression that what I have done has mattered. However, time and again over the last few years, I have discovered the relative truth of that statement. No more ‘shoulds,’ just life. Just life.

I have had an idea. Why not combine antler and bronze in a sculpture? Or perhaps other materials, like marble?

Some Design Ideas

Shane's design ideas for hands on mammoth tusk. (March 1996)
(Hands in various postures along a tusk or sheep horn ...)

Shane's design ideas for patterns on antler, horn, ivory. (March 1996)
(Carvings with several small designs, patterned across the medium: hands, abstract ...)

Ideas for Work

Carve details into moose antler base and sides in all pieces, which serves to unify theme (intricate and abstract). Possibly also a good way to do caribou antlers: in abstract curves, threads, cubes, etc.