Alex Helin grew up watching his father, renowned Tsimshian First Nations artist Bill Helin, carve his way into history, but today he’s the one sparking people’s attention with his own line of distinctive hand-carved Tsimshian jewelry.
“Being surrounded by his gift kind of rubbed off on me in a way,” said the 25-year-old Parksville resident.
Alex grew up in the area and graduated from Ballenas High School. He began working with his father at a young age, after seeing him work on his art at home on a daily basis. By age eight, Alex assisted his dad on the world’s tallest totem pole for the Commonwealth Games in Victoria and a couple of years later he worked with him on the historic Raven’s Song canoe, which was donated to the Ravensong Aquatic Centre.
Alex started carving Tsimshian jewelry as a part time job before he entered high school, and by Grade 11 he really started getting into it, he said. After high school he apprenticed with his dad and he’s been honing his craft full time since then.
Every year Alex has been getting busier, he said, and sells his bracelets, rings, earrings and pendants with Tsimshian animal crests in galleries in Prince Rupert, Vancouver, the Lower Mainland and the Island, as well as takes custom orders. Some of his work includes silver and gold combos, some bracelets are set on leather cuffs and some of the intricate designs are inlaid with colourful stones and diamonds.
Recently Alex started up a Facebook Page with pictures of his work and within two weeks he had over 1,100 likes, with over 300 comments on one particular wrap wedding ring. Friends shared his page with friends, and Alex ended up getting a large number of likes from Northern B.C., he said. He now has over 1,500 likes and his recent post of a silver baby bracelet has lots of people talking.
Although he and his aunt Leanne both apprenticed with Bill, and they all carve using the same techniques and Tsimshian Native designs, Alex said they have their own distinct styles. His, for example, may have deeper engravings and more of a modern flair reflective of his personality.
Alex said carving the jewelry to his satisfaction was difficult at first but the work has almost become second nature now. But the best part for him happens after he finishes a piece, he said.
“Mostly I enjoy seeing the people react and how unique and custom a piece can get, so I definitely seek to impress,” he said.