25th Anniversary

A Global Spotlight on Haida Culture Through Indigenous Art

By: Francesca Hellebrandt, eBay News Team

eBay sellers Shaun Smith and Stephanie Markham share their community’s creative wealth by connecting local Haida artisans to the rest of the world.

Editor’s note: In celebration of eBay’s 25th anniversary, we’re spotlighting a seller every week from our global community in our Mini-Stories column through 2020.

For Shaun Smith and Stephanie Markham, selling on eBay has meant a unique opportunity to share their culture with the world. Each piece of their inventory is symbolic of Haida heritage, from intricate, sterling silver jewelry with swirling patterns to hand-carved totem poles made of lustrous, black argillite stone, inlaid with abalone and antlers. Located in Skidegate on Haida Gwaii, formerly known as The Queen Charlotte Islands, the couple runs Haida Gwaii Gift Shop & Clothing on eBay, featuring local, handmade artwork and jewelry that includes sculptures, totem poles, pipes, earrings and pendants. “Everything we sell is local, authentic and handmade,” Shaun said.

Shaun’s eBay journey started in 2009 when he decided to bring his dad’s artwork onto the global marketplace. For over 30 years, Shaun’s father Glen Pollard Sr. has worked as a master carver on the island, creating exquisite Haida carvings from unique argillite stone sourced from the island. An important commodity for the Haida people, the semi-precious stone can only be found in a remote quarry on the island that’s inaccessible to most. The arduous journey involves navigating rocky terrain and using a handsaw to remove the rare black form from the mountainside. Once removed, Pollard uses handmade files to carve a variety of images from the black stone, symbolizing local stories, traits and values of Haida culture.

Shaun Smith Haida Argillite Carvings

Haida argillite carvings - captured by Stephanie

Shaun Smith Tools

Glen Pollard Sr' Argillite Tools - captured by Stephanie

As Shaun helped to bring his father’s artwork to a global audience, he soon realized the opportunity to share the work of other local Indigenous artists with customers around the world. Just last year, Stephanie joined Shaun full-time in supporting local Haida artists by purchasing their creations and reselling them through their eBay store. The couple now supports 11 local artists and sells to international art collectors and enthusiasts in greater Canada, the U.S., U.K., France and Japan, to name just a few countries where they’ve shipped to sellers.

Building local ties and maintaining strong relationships with the artists they work with is a key priority for the seller duo. "Since I grew up here, I know everyone who does art here,” Shaun said. “We get new customers by going door to door to see the artists whose work we like. We literally knock on their door and ask if they want to work with us, talking to them face-to-face to build a connection," Stephanie added. “All of the artists we work with are local, so we can visit them all in person.”

The couple’s combined focus on community engagement and collaboration has served them well in growing their eBay store. For Shaun especially, he credits the success of their online store to the sheer artistic talent of local creatives. “This is our passion, to show the world this beautiful handmade Haida artwork,” he said. “The Haida community is well-known among art patrons for one-of-a-kind design, expert craftsmanship and attention to detail.”

Traditional Haida artwork is recognized for its monumental totem poles, sculptures and carvings from wood, metal and slate. Through generations, the Haida people have used the land and ocean as sources of inspiration for their artwork. Many of the creatures found on family crests and carved objects are drawn from Indegenous stories involving animals like the Raven, Killer Whale and Salmon, as well as supernatural beings like the Sea-Wolf. Each symbol has its own respective meaning and story that Haida artists use to inform their work.

Indegenous art collectors and enthusiasts excitedly await new drops on Shaun and Stephanie’s eBay watch list. The moment a new piece of Haida artwork is listed, it usually sells out within just a few days, the partners explained. “I love everything that we sell,” Stephanie said. “Whenever we get new pieces, I always wish we could keep everything, because they're so beautiful and really hard to let go of sometimes.”

Luckily for Stephanie, she has grown her own personal collection of Haida jewelry from Shaun and his father. “On special occasions, Shaun will buy some pieces for me as presents, and I keep them stored away in my argillite jewelry box,” she said fondly. “I have accumulated quite a lot of Haida pendants from both Shaun and his dad.” As for Shaun, his favorite pieces are the miniature totem poles that his dad carves himself. “They range from 8 to 12 inches in height and usually depict several symbols and figures,” he said.

With a growing inventory of artwork, the couple plans to expand their online shop into a brick-and-mortar gift shop in Skidegate next summer. “We are planning to build a gift shop in the basement of our house,” Stephanie said. “Now with an influx in sales during the holidays, our eBay savings are growing, and we are saving for the expansion.”

While tourism on the island has halted due to the pandemic, the business is profiting from its online gift shop and eBay store. “Despite the pandemic, business is going steady,” Shaun said. In fact, the business is invigorating the local creative community both artistically and economically. With sales on their eBay store doing so well, the couple is able to help local artists bring in additional income for their families, especially valuable during times like these. “They appreciate the business because it's helping a lot of them feed their families,” Shaun said.

This past October, Shaun and Stephanie were recognized as part of eBay Canada’s Hall of Fame, which celebrated the entrepreneurial spirit of 25 unique eBay sellers from across the country. “It was so exciting that people could read our story,” Stephanie recalled. “There are so many customers and resellers on eBay that it felt really good to be recognized.”

And, for both Shaun and Stephanie, it’s that focus on the customer that’s the best part of selling on eBay. “We have a lot of loyal customers that have been shopping with us for years now,” said Stephanie. “Many of them open up to us and tell us about their story and what the new art piece means to them. Other times, they tell us a little something about their family and where they're from. It’s just really nice that the customers feel comfortable enough to share their stories with us.”

Empowering entrepreneurship and creating economic opportunity for all has been our philosophy at eBay since we were founded 25 years ago. Our marketplace has been enriched by the hundreds of thousands of independent small businesses and entrepreneurs worldwide. We win when they do. Learn more about how we partner with our sellers.