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Heard Museum Market attracts Nations' best artists

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RICHMOND, British Columbia -As simple as the appearance of his bentwood
boxes, carver Larry Rosso used the pieces as a cultural lesson to introduce
the intricacies of Northwest coast art to an American audience.

Rosso, of the Carrier First Nation in northern British Columbia and now
living in a Vancouver suburb, was one of only a few Canadians at the
prestigious 2004 Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market in Phoenix. Being
chosen was quite an honor, as all of the more than 600 artists at this
festival are juried.

His discovery by one of the Heard's selection committee members occurred
when she passed through Vancouver's airport and happened to view his four,
four-foot circular panels each depicting an animal: the beaver, frog, eagle
and whale.

Noted for his carvings and boxes, Rosso was as much an ambassador of the
Northwest as he was about his own creations. The idea that bentwood boxes
are created out of one piece when processed through several phases was not
something initially grasped by those who passed through his booth.

"We had to go on about that several times, but they were quite fascinated
with the practice and they mentioned how distinctive the art was," said
Rosso about these pieces, which historically were used to store items
ranging from food to ceremonial regalia.

One of his chests received an Honorable Mention ribbon (equal to a second
place) in the Cultural Items - Utilitarian category. Initially not
realizing the significance of this achievement, having won other awards in
the past, Rosso appreciated the prize's acknowledgment after the fair when
he received congratulations from others.

"Talking to most of the people, they said it would take a few years of
participation because there is a little bit of political status involved,"
Rosso said.

A full-time carver by trade, there is more to his work than just creating
art for the sake of money. After three decades spent perfecting his craft,
Rosso still finds inspiration when creating - and it's this
self-satisfaction that drew him out of his darkest period.

Rosso was diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer in 1998. As the disease
altered his body while attacking his spinal column, Rosso lost five inches
in height. The treatment was exhaustive, and the process left him in pain.
Carving, however, provided a holistic approach to the healing.

"Because he had to finish a mural for a show, it made him work on it,"
Rosso's wife, Marie, said about the importance of his art. "Even though he
had trouble standing, sitting and sleeping, this is what got him out of
bed."

Now prominently shown in his home, the 4- by 11-foot mural tells of the
beaver being cared for by all the other animals.

"I wanted to do a piece to show how the different people were trying to
help beaver get better," said Rosso. "With a number of other things, it
must be working because beaver is doing quite well."

With the experience of the Heard market completed, Rosso was pleased with
the exposure he received and the sales generated. Approximately 18,000
people passed through the museum's gates over the two days; and of the 20
pieces he traveled with, a dozen were sold for about $8,000.

In addition to his professional development by taking this trip, Rosso
liked the attention directed toward the Pacific Northwest.

"It was nice to see that this art was received without them knowing what
this was and the people are more educated with the art we do," he said.

The 47th annual Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market will take place
March 5 - 6 in Phoenix, with a Best of Show reception on March 4.