Mike holds a butterfly, one of his latest creations. (Emily Vance photo)

Nanoose Bay carver goes all-in on projects

Bellis creates eight-foot totem as Christmas gift for wife

Mike Bellis doesn’t do anything halfway.

When he asked his wife, Kristi Bellis, what she wanted for Christmas in the winter of 2018, she said “oh, babe, don’t make a fuss. Something homemade.”

Kristi says she isn’t a “stuff” person, and wasn’t expecting much more than a poem or a bracelet.

Instead, on Christmas morning, Mike lead her into their garage, where an eight-foot totem pole called Family was standing.

Kristi had had an inkling of what Mike was up to, but she was nervous to see the end result. Since Mike had never carved before, she had low expectations — but what she found far outstripped her fondest hope.

“I was so blown away. Because it’s so beautiful,” said Kristi.

At the top of the totem is an eagle, Mike’s spiritual animal. The bear on the bottom represents Kristi as the rock of the family. A little watchman sits in the bear’s stomach that protects the house and their family.

Mike’s heritage is Haida. He had never carved before, but he has strong memories of visiting Haida Gwaii and watching his uncle, cousin and father carve.

“I don’t know if that part is in my blood or not, but I remember those days, and I remember those smells, I remember the shavings hitting the floor… I’ll never forget that,” said Mike.

He had always wanted a totem pole for their garden, so he decided to take this opportunity and run with it.

Fast foward seven months, and Mike hasn’t slowed down one bit.

He’s carved eight totem poles to date, the tallest of them reaching 13 feet. He’s also created paddles, panels, boxes, a small canoe and a handful of fishing lures. Mike estimates he’s made about 25 pieces since he started carving seven months ago.

From the way he tells it, his proliferation is part personality and part ancestry, with a bit of luck thrown in.

That first pole, Family, was sticking out of his truck bed as he drove home one day.

As luck would have it, he was stopped by an art dealer who specializes in First Nations work.

“It was really kind of divine timing,” said Kristi.

The dealer asked if the piece was for sale. It wasn’t, but when the art dealer told Mike he’d be interested in seeing other pieces, Mike realized that he may have stumbled upon a serious talent.

“Not only was it enjoyable fun in channelling some of my older heritage through my family and through my father, but it was potentially another stream of income for our household,” he said.

Without that encouragement, he thinks he may have carved a couple more pieces and then been done. All the feedback from his friends and family had been positive, but he wasn’t sure if they were just being kind.

“To hear those words from somebody who does that as a living – it was like, wow. Maybe all my friends aren’t just talking me up. It was nice to get that reassurance, which gave me that initial boost of confidence,” said Mike.

Life hasn’t all been roses for the Bellises. A spinal cord injury Kristi describes as “devastating” in 2005 left Mike with mobility difficulties and serious pain. That lead to serious weight gain, and spiralled into a seven-year dependence on painkillers and alcohol. Things were going rapidly downhill.

“I look back to where I was in 2012, and it was no question that I was at my weakest point. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, everything,” said Mike.

Now he’s carved a totem pole called Recovery as a donation to The Orchard, the rehabilitation facility that Mike says saved his life in 2012. Recovery features an eagle as well as several other natural-world symbols that directly apply to those trying to rebuild their lives.

The dragonfly symbolizes new beginnings; the hummingbird peace, positivity and appreciation; and the moon transformation and spiritual guidance.

After leaving The Orchard, Mike took the summer of 2012 off work and spent it working in the garden with Kristi, shedding pounds and rebuilding his life. It wasn’t easy, but in the end he lost 130 pounds and has been sober for seven years. He wants to share his story so that others who may be struggling can find hope.

Now, he and Kristi laugh about how carving has become his new addiction. He spends up to eight hours per day carving, getting up before the sun many days. He also runs an ocean and fishing tour company out of Schooner Cove called Haida Gold Ocean Adventures.

Mike had his first public showing in June as part of the Nanoose Bay Studio Tour. He has no intention of slowing down, and is branching out into more unique pieces and contemporary twists on traditional Haida art.

“It’s going to take years to get good to the level that I intend to be. But I am on my way, and I think I’m going in the right direction,” said Mike.

Kristi is right there with him.

“I feel like this is going to be a direction that he’s going to go now with his life. I have this very strong feeling that he’ll be a well-known Haida artist, I feel very strongly about it,” said Kristi.

Anyone interested in seeing more of Mike’s work can find him on Instagram @captainmikebellis.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

As a fisherman, the fishing lure is one of Mike’s favourite pieces. (Emily Vance photo)

The totem pole Family now sits in the couple’s garden in their Nanoose Bay home. (Emily Vance photo)

Just Posted

Qualicum Beach council voices support for Ballenas track upgrade

Town still not ready to provide dollar amount without further information

Resident discovers five discarded hog heads in a ditch in Coombs

WARNING: Graphic image may be upsetting to some readers

RDN budget includes unexpected $1.5 million for sewer pipe replacement

Pipe corrosion at Departure Bay discovered in December

People tab ‘Roaring ’20s’ as theme for Parksville sand sculpting competition

‘Topsy Turvy’ and ‘Celebrate!’ also considered for 2020 beach festival event

Seniors often forgotten in mental health conversation

‘Empathy for Suicide’ event in Qualicum Beach on Feb. 24

Fashion Fridays: The 8 best quality online stores! Shop the ultimate sales

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Exclusive: Pamela Anderson talks plans for waterfront Ladysmith property after 12-day marriage

Anderson says she can pay her own bills. Peters denies making comments suggesting she can’t

Burger King breaks the mould with new advertising campaign

The company is known for irreverent ad campaigns

Petition seeks to remove local police department from Lindsay Buziak murder case

American woman starts online petition in hopes of helping Buziak family

Health officials confirm sixth COVID-19 case in B.C.

Woman remains in isolation as Fraser Health officials investigate

Study says flu vaccine protected most people during unusual influenza season

Test-negative method was pioneered by the BC Centre for Disease Control in 2004

Saskatchewan and B.C. reach championship round at Scotties

British Columbia’s Corryn Brown locked up the last berth in Pool B

B.C. lawyer, professor look to piloting a mental-health court

In November, Nova Scotia’s mental-health court program marked 10 years of existence

COLUMN: Not an expert on First Nations government structures? Then maybe you should calm down

Consider your knowledge about First Nations governance structures before getting really, really mad

Most Read