The link to his ancestors

Chantelle MacIsaac
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When somebody spends more than 40 years at his or her work, one can no longer call it a hobby, but more of a skill.

Everybody who has seen, purchased, or acquired any of Robert Whalen's work would also call his talent a skill.

Whalen, who currently lives in South Branch, first picked up on what he calls a hobby back in the '70s, and almost accidentally.

Through his job as a hunting guide, he found artifacts belonging to his Indian ancestors, and had archeologists confirm his finds.

To the naked eye, many of the items he found look like rocks, but in fact, they are fossils and artifacts.

Rocks used for flint knapping, rocks that were used as tools for skinning animals, and rocks that were used as axe heads, even pieces of soapstone, which was used for cooking upon.

That eye that Whalen has for history has turned into the want to create items that not only reflect his ancestors, but also enables him to do something he loves.

Whalen has a large assortment of items, all handmade, and nearly 100 per cent from natural ingredients.

His collection includes toothpick holders crafted and painted from caribou bones, jewelry made from moose bones, earrings crafted from cod cheeks, necklaces from seal claws, clocks and ornaments made from sea glass, paintings upon moose shoulder bones, swords made from swordfish and so much more.

Perhaps the items that are not only visually appealing but also contain rich history are the handmade tomahawks, spears, dream catchers, clothing, knives, fur doll clothing, and paintings of different landscapes.

At one point, Whalen did sell quite a few items at a local convenience store, but said now, most of the people interested in his things are hunters who come from the states and seem to be amazed by his work.

He doesn't do it to make money, and said a lot of his items are either priceless, or will never sell for their true value.

One item he never expects to sell is a doll-clothing item he made out of the fur of a silver fox.

He will part with many of his items though, such as his bone paintings, toothpick holders, dream catchers and Indian spears.


Whalen described working with bone to be dusty, and probably bad for your health, so most of his cutting, grinding and sanding is done outdoors.

The furs he uses come from rabbit, beaver, moose, caribou, bear and other wild game he dries and cures before using, and Whalen said every animal he hunts is during season and that he only kills what he intends to eat.

Other items and bones he has picked up from out on the country, while on hunts.

When it comes to making spears, he said the longest part of creating one is the painting.

He makes the blades out of stainless steel, inserts them into a wooden staff and decorates it with leathers, furs and feathers from wild birds such as grouse.

He prefers to use caribou bones for the toothpick holders because of the split in the middle, and he attaches cardboard pieces on the bottom to hold them in.

He makes each one different, some with imbedded embellishments and all with different hand painted scenes.

His knife and sword handles are made out of bone, carved and hand painted.

When he is making jewelry, he will sometimes burn the bones for design. He said the important trick to remember is to quench the bone afterwards in mineral oil, and that is the only type of oil that wont crack the bone.

Whalen said that when it comes to making certain things, he has to purchase some supplies.

Other than moose bones in his jewelry, he will also use beads to pop the colours, and when it comes to making dream catchers he has to buy the rings, the certain type of thread for the web, and most often he purchases the coloured feathers.

Besides those items, some steel he has purchased, and the paint he uses, everything is found in nature.

He holds up a belt he created made entirely out of red alders.

He described the process of pushing the middle part through, drying out the wood, and then being able to use the pieces to create belts, pieces for his jewelry and more.

He hasn't made any snowshoes yet, but is fully confident that if he were stuck in the woods he would be able to construct a pair in no time.

His next piece is a bow and arrow for someone in Corner Brook.

Whalen loves to spend his time outdoors, and always has an eye out for things that contain history.

His hobby fills his time, he loves doing it, and his wife loves the fact she is always receiving new jewelry.


Organizations: South Branch

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