Arts & Culture

Chehalis Tribe plans showcase for native carvers

Fred Shortman displays a wooden paddle he carved.
Fred Shortman displays a wooden paddle he carved.

Next month, native American carvers from around the Northwest will gather at the Chehalis Reservation to showcase their work – an event that will include classes, art sales, demonstrations and a traditional feast.

“Our hope is that people will buy from these artists,” said Lawrence SpottedBird, executive director of the Chehalis Tribal Loan Fund, which is putting on the May 18 event. “The more we have this and the more we promote it, it might become a well-known place to purchase native art from the artists themselves.”

SpottedBird noted that many people buy native art from galleries or online, but having a chance to interact with the artists and see them in action is a rare opportunity. The loan fund is inviting tribal carvers from the Pacific Northwest, Canada and Southeast Alaska to participate in the event.

Fred Shortman, a Chehalis Tribe member who has been carving for more than 10 years, said the practice is a collaborative one, with knowledge shared among the artists.

“It’s tradition,” he said. “You learn from each other and work together. … It’s like your ancestors sitting on your shoulders and guiding your fingers.”

Shortman has carved paddles, necklaces and plaques, many in storyboard form. He’s looking forward to the showcase and the opportunity to see artists from all over the region demonstrate their various techniques.

“I love watching other people work,” he said. “I learn from them. … You listen not only to your wood but to your people.”

The showcase is part of ongoing outreach events put on by the Chehalis Tribal Loan Fund, a resource that helps tribal and community members with things like small business loans, home improvements and debt consolidation.

The fund also runs a program that gives tribal artists professional business training.

“It’s very important,” SpottedBird said. “A lot of native artists, they think from the creative side of their brain. The business side of the brain is important knowledge too. The business side is very foreign – most artists want to just create.”

At the showcase, the loan fund will offer professional development classes alongside the training by native master carvers. The group will also serve a traditional feast, and it plans to have discussion over the meal about starting a Native Carvers Association to bring the artists together in a more official way.

The event, SpottedBird said, will be free and open to the public, though a nominal fee may be charged for the carving classes. The showcase is slated to run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Chehalis Tribal Community Center in Oakville.

The event is modeled on the Annual Basketweavers Gathering that brings together Northwest tribes and draws about 2,000 attendees annually.

Organizers already have reached out to all 29 tribes in Washington, a dozen organizations in British Columbia and a dozen more in Southeast Alaska, seeking artists to participate in the event.