Graham Searle ‘Tic-ma’

The making of 'generous heart'

This is the story of Graham Searle, an Exeter resident who volunteered at the Museum for 17 years. In his time at RAMM, Graham helped to document and illustrate the ethnography collection. Graham’s story highlights the significance of community engagement work, and the poignant legacies that remain.

It was during the pole’s carving in June 1998 that Graham Searle and master carver Tim Paul got to know each other well, and Graham was given permission by Tim to assist with the decoration of the pole. Outsiders are not normally invited to participate in the decoration of such iconic carvings, but Ilchinik signified Exeter’s connection with Vancouver Island. Graham was ‘adopted’ into Tim’s Naa-yii-I family, where Graham was presented with gifts – the rattle, the vest, the title ‘Ticma’, which means ‘generous heart’ and a song. Graham was given the honorary title of ‘Keeper of the Pole’. This reflects a First Nations tradition of gift-giving, which is concerned with the development of relationships for the benefit of everyone.

Sadly, Graham Searle passed away in 2004 and although these items were inherited by his family, they were loaned to RAMM where they were integrated into the redisplay of the World Cultures gallery for the re-opening of the museum in 2012. Both items are linked to the carving of the pole and it is important that they are kept together, so Exeter’s connection to the Nuu-chah-nulth is maintained.

cedar bark vest

Cedar bark. H.870 x W.600mm. Accession number 37/2018/1.

The cedar bark vest was hand-made by weaver, ceremonialist and youth educator Donna Lucas during the delegation visit in 1998. Although this is a modern item it is an example of traditional hand-weaving and of clothing historically worn by people in the Northwest Coast region. It’s a locally sourced and reliable material. Clothing principally functions to protect the body from the elements, however, this vest was intended for ceremonial use.

In the past, the Nuu-chah-nulth wove cedar bark into various garments, especially for wear during the autumn and winter months. Large robes of red cedar were made to give the wearer warmth, whereas robes worn by nobles would have been made from rare yellow cedar. Robes were worn over the shoulders and secured underneath when the wearer was sitting or standing. Men and women also made rain capes, ponchos, aprons and hats all made from cedar bark.

The shaman’s rattle was made by master carver Joe David, a well known First Nation artist. It is carved in the style of a shamanic rattle, and Joe David himself underwent a number of shamanic dreams, visions and experiences in the summer months of the 1980s at a remote island location called Echachist. The rattle is carved with a face on both sides; human and seal, thus representing the idea of transformation. The seal was an important source of oil and fur, its meat and blubber would be consumed during feasts.

This object was then gifted by Joe David to another Northwest Coast artist called Joe Thompson, who in turn gifted it to Tim Paul. The object’s journey did not stop there, and the rattle was gifted to Graham Searle, and it is now in the Museum’s care for the Exeter public to enjoy.

In addition to being displayed beside the vest, the rattle is also juxtaposed with a 19th century example of a popular dance rattle carved in the form of a raven. Occasionally rattles were used in pairs and many examples depicted ravens, although there are a few that represent other animals that hold totemic significance and relate to lineage and histories.

Joe David shaman rattle

Cedar, seed. H.250 x W.120 x DP.116mm. Accession number 37/2018/2.

These items mirror the importance of remembering people’s histories and connections to one another. Public perception of museum acquisition in the colonial era are edged with concerns about unethical appropriation. This is where honest discussions are needed.

The rattle and vest, with other collection items, can serve to illustrate the social benefit of them having a presence in Exeter, and one that brings out the idea of positive relationships, and a strong sense and understanding of what community means. Behind these artefacts are multiple voices that can illicit the perspectives we need to better understand the complex histories of our ancestors.

There is a plaque dedicated to Graham in the World Cultures gallery.

His participation in such a fondly remembered project reminds us that in this current era of decolonisation, the Museum is an important space for meaningful engagements with those communities who have survived the trauma of colonialism. Acting as a ‘contact zone’, the Museum collections can find even more relevance with contemporary audiences by ensuring they can proudly re-engage with the material culture of their ancestors. It’s important that the Museum maintains these relationships for the generations to come. The journey of these artefacts does not end with the Museum, but rather will be determined by the relevant needs of their audiences.