Published on January 28, 2014 by Amy
Born In Hydaburg, Alaska, Fred Lauth has Haida ancestry on his mother’s side and Tlingit on his father’s.
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His Tlingit name is Steeyun and his Haida name is Iljewaas. Both translate to “Big man sitting.”
As a child, Fred remembers playing on totem poles at a local totem park. Among the poles was a replica of one that was carved by his grandfather.
Although it would be years until Fred had the opportunity to learn to carve, he marveled at how his grandfather carved the totem pole. Fred recalls that his grandmother greatly valued his grandfather’s carvings, placing them in safe and secure places. She would get upset when he would find pieces carved by his grandfather, and bring them out. She’d speak seriously to him, telling him, “Those are artifacts, don’t touch them!”
Around the age of 30, Fred began to attend the University of Washington. There he pursued a degree in business, and had the opportunity to study under carvers Marvin Oliver, Duane Pasco and Steve Brown.
Despite already having been exposed to the work of his ancestors, and studying under other carvers, Fred does not feel that he has yet grasped the full meaning of the art. Summing it up, he says, “It’s hard to understand carving until you actually do it. It takes much time and patience.”
For the 2004 Northwest Native Woodcarvers’ Gathering at The Evergreen State College Longhouse in Olympia, Washington, Fred had selected “Eagle Mask,” depicting the powerful supernatural being that represents the highest order in the Haida clan system. Carved out of alder, often used in making food bowls, the mask is inlaid with abalone. Abalone is a traditional trade item that was used as currency. When Fred contemplates the mask, he says that every time he sees an eagle, it reminds him of his grandfather, and he mentally asks him to “help me do the right thing.”
In addition to carving totem poles, which take several months to complete, Fred also carves smaller pieces. Among these are masks that are used in traditional dances. In this way, Fred’s work directly furthers the culture that inspired him to carve in the first place. Fred situates the production of each of his pieces within the larger realm of cultural values, “The first thing you learn is patience. These things aren’t done overnight.” He is rewarded for his patience each time an admirer slowly savors the meaning behind Fred’s artistry.