Editor’s Note: While Dudley Carter died in 1992, author
Sharlene Nelson was lucky enough to know and interview him when he was still alive. COLUMBIAKids
is proud to share the story of this truly Notorious Nwesterner (shown at center in the Diego Rivera mural above).
Dudley C. Carter liked to write stories. But he didn’t use pen and paper. Nor did he sit at a
desk. He crafted his stories outside in rain, wind, and sunshine. Using loggers’ tools, a double
-bitted axe, and an adze (a chisel-like tool) he carved West Coast Indian legends and folk stories on giant logs from giant trees. "Writing" these stories in his own way, he became an
Boyhood In British Columbia
Dudley’s family homesteaded near the mouth of the Fraser River in British Columbia. They cleared
a place in the forest and built a cabin where Dudley was born May 6, 1891. He was the youngest of
three boys. His father operated logging camps.
"We made everything by hand," said Dudley. "We split cedar logs for cabin floorboards. We made our benches and tables and canoes to get us around." Twice each year, the family rode in a horse
-drawn wagon through forests and canyons to the grocery store seven miles away. They returned
with potatoes, corn meal, cases of canned milk and prunes, barrels of sugar, sacks of flour, and
eighty pounds of bacon slabs.
The school house, like the grocery store, was miles away, so Dudley’s father taught the boys in
their cabin. When Dudley was only ten years old, he became a skid greaser. Running barefoot ahead
of oxen pulling logs, he slopped grease on poles buried in a skid road. The logs then slipped
easily over the greasy poles.
In 1906, the family moved to a logging camp at Alert Bay, British Columbia, next to a Kwakiutl
Indian village. "The Haida Indians and the Kwakiutls were still carving their lofty totems and
their community houses and war canoes were still being built," he said.
During the week, teenage Dudley worked as a timber faller, ten hours a day, six days a week. On
Sundays he visited the Kwakiutl village. He listened to their legends and watched them carve.
Tramping The Wilderness
Dudley later learned engineering and became a forest engineer. He worked for lumber companies and
tramped far into the wilderness mapping roads and measuring tree sizes. He carried a backpack
filled with instruments, canned food, and bedding. He often slept in tree hallows and
encountered bears, mountain lions, and wolves. Dudley said that some of his sculptures were
inspired as he lay, "…dreaming beside the dying embers of my campfire deep in silent solitudes of
the forest, surrounded by all the power and grandeur of nature, the wildlife, and majestic
In 1924, at the age of 33, Dudley became seriously ill. This "…marked an important milestone or
turning point in my life." While recovering, he thought about his boyhood days, the big trees,
the Haida and Kwakiutl carvers and their legends. He decided to start carving. "My thoughts
inspired and encouraged me to use cedar trees as a medium and a tiny voice within cried, ‘Bring
on the axe!’"
Dudley moved to Washington state in 1928 and entered a sculpture contest. He won! His award,
three weeks of sculpture lessons at the University of Washington. The professor liked Dudley’s
work and gave him three more weeks for free. This was his only formal art instruction.
In 1932, Dudley began to "write" his stories. He decided to depict a Duwamish Indian legend about
a battle between North Wind and Chinook Wind. North Wind
froze the land and the people starved. Chinook Wind blew warm, melting the ice and the people
To begin his story Dudley hiked through the forest and selected a cedar tree. He felled it, cut a
twelve-foot chunk, and had it delivered to his studio. It weighed more than a school bus!
Swinging his axe, he roughed out three large figures huddled together. Their faces, with sad but
hopeful eyes, emerged as Dudley chipped at the log. He titled the sculpture, "Rivalry of the
Winds," and sold it to the Seattle Art Museum.
The Biggest Giant
Dudley later moved to San Francisco and "…found the great Redwoods of California excellent
material for a sculpture on a larger scale." Soon, opportunity knocked! Dudley was invited to do
a major sculpture at the 1939 World’s Fair in San Francisco.
Dudley selected a redwood log that weighed thirty tons and stood sixty feet high. Ladders were
too short for Dudley to reach the top, so he rode a lift suspended from the ceiling in the Palace
of Fine Arts. Thousands of spectators watched as Dudley rode up and down swinging his axe and
chipping with his adze.
One of the spectators was the famous Mexican painter Diego Rivera. He was painting a mural, 30-
feet wide by 80-feet long in the same building. Rivera, impressed by Dudley’s work, painted
Dudley in the middle of his mural. Today, Rivera’s mural and Dudley’s "Goddess of the Forest" are displayed at City College of San Francisco.
Dudley returned to Washington to teach sculpture classes at the University of Washington. He
built a replica of a Haida community house for his studio in Bellevue. His fame grew. People in Japan, Germany, and Canada purchased Dudley sculptures, and still Dudley
He was nearly 90 years old when he carved three giant red cedar logs for a Portland, Oregon,
shopping mall. He stood on scaffolding thirty feet high carving late into the night, in all kinds
Still feeling vigorous and saying, "I feel I am just getting started," Dudley was chosen King
County’s artist-in-residence in 1987. He lived, carved, and taught classes to young people at
Slough House in Marymoor Park next to a hiking and biking trail. People stopped to watch him
carve another story, "Adventures on Western Waters."
To celebrate his 101st birthday, Dudley planned a family picnic. On the kitchen table among his
picnic notes lay a sketch. He pointed to it and said, "This is a sketch for my next sculpture."
Unfortunately, Dudley passed away a few days later. His stories, written from the wood of West Coast forests, live on.
Find out More
Dudley Carter’s "Legend of the Moon" can be seen at Marymoor Park, "Forest
Deity" at the Bellevue Mall, "Rivalry of the Winds" at Seattle Art Museum, and "Birds and
Waterfall" at the Redmond Library. Take a ride on the Redmond bike trail to see two more Dudley Carter sculptures.
In 1947, Paramount Pictures made a movie about Dudley called Sculpture of Great
Diego Rivera’s mural showing Dudley Carter at work can be seen at City College
in San Francisco.