At the age of nine, his cousin, Joe Peters,
introduced him to the North West Coast Native Art
form. At age twelve, Sean was selected to enter a
carving program led by George Hunt Jr. This
knowledge further encouraged and influenced his
abilities as an artist. Other influences on Sean's
art include Beau Dick and Wayne Alfred, George
Hunt Jr., Richard Hunt, Tony Hunt, and Calvin
Hunt. Sean draws further inspiration from the
works by the late Mungo Martin, Willi Seaweed,
and Charlie James, luminaries in the world of
Kwakwaka'wakw art who have inspired many other
Sean and his brothers carry on the Northwest
Coast skills in creating ocean going canoes
from a single cedar log. The original
inspiration was a canoe built in the 1880's
and owned by great-grandparents Jonathan
and Mary Whonnock. In 2002 Sean and his
brothers completed their 42-foot long canoe.
This canoe reproduces the elaborate carving
and workmanship of the original canoe which
is on display at the Thomas Burke Museum
in Seattle, Washington.
The Whonnock family will use their present-
day canoe to carry on traditional practices for
gathering foods and materials and for
In 2004, the Whonnock family held a potlatch
in memory of grand-parents Johnathan and
Mary Whonnock. Sean and his family raised a
21 foot Totem pole in the historic burial
ground overlooking the Alert Bay ocean front.
Later, in 2005, Sean and his family raised a
Memorial pole for grandfather Gideon
Sean actively participates in his culture by
attending Potlatches and has recently been
initiated into the Great Grizzly Bear Society.
Sean and his family believe that it is very
important to uphold their family names and
privileges. As is the Kwakwaka'wakw culture,
Sean continues to give back to his people and
families by contributing specific masks and
pieces for potlatches and ceremonies.
While Sean is an acknowledged carver of
poles, he is best known for his exquisitely
detailed and traditionally carved Chiefs'
rattles. These ceremonial rattles are in many
private collections worldwide. In addition to
being beautiful art pieces, the rattles are
completely functional and when used in
traditional ceremonies the rattles resonate
into every corner of the Big House.
Sean has been carving and painting
professionally since 1990. He is
continuously refining and defining his
own style. His love of the art is inspired
by the Kwakwaka'wakw culture.
Sean's work is prized by private
collectors, galleries, and museums.
Sean also contributes his work to the
community. In 1997, Sean and his
brother Johnathan Henderson began
planning a carved pole to be raised in
Thunderbird Park at the Royal British
Columbia Museum in Victoria. The two
men began carving the pole in 1998
and in October 1999 they raised the
pole, a ceremony marked by a
traditional Feast that was widely
attended. The carved pole represents
symbol thanks to the Coast Salish
people for sharing their lands with the
Kwakwaka'wakw people of Northern
Sean Whonnock (Wanukw
"River owner") is a
working in wood, canvas,
stone, and precious metals.
Sean was born and lives in
Alert Bay in British
Columbia on the west coast
Alert Bay, BC Canada