Dudley Carter: An Unusual and Forgotten Artist

Dudley Carter: An Unusual and Forgotten Artist


Dudley Carter's iconic Forest Deity carving, near Bellevue Shopping Square circa 1947.

Dudley Carter was Redmond’s most famous sculptor, working with cedars and redwoods to sculpt Native American-inspired works. His more prominent works include the Haida House at Slough Park and “Forest Deity” at Bellevue Square.

Carter was perseveringly productive and his lifestyle challenged many modern American conceptions of life. He got his first paid job when he was 6 and kept working until his death almost 95 years later. He reportedly took one vacation and never again, preferring to continue working. He never had a formal Western education because he grew up among Native American peoples such as the Kwakiutl, Haida, and Tsimshyan, far away from schoolhouses. He also believed modern medical practice was a waste of money. He avoided seeing a doctor, instead eating a minimalist diet and fasting when needed.

Carter didn’t start sculpting until he was in his 40’s; the Depression in the 1930’s decreased demand for his services as a logger and gave him more time to explore his self-expression. One of his first major pieces was “Rivalry of the Winds”, which the Seattle Art Museum bought in 1932. He later moved to California and there created “Goddess of the Forest” at the 1939-1940 San Francisco World Fair, which gained him more recognition. He moved back to Seattle in the 1940’s.

Kemper Freeman Sr., the developer for Bellevue Square, loved Carter’s work on “Bird Woman” at the Bellevue’s first arts festival in 1947 and commissioned a work for Bellevue Square. At the time, Carter had a day job as a forest engineer for a timber company. He worked on what became “Forest Deity” every night from 10 pm to 2 am in the Snohomish woods close to Granite Falls until he’d finished.

The finished work revolves around the serene face of the deity, who according to some interpretations is female. There’s a small wreath of dogwood blossoms on her head. At the top of the work, an eagle chick peeks out from under the large head of its mother. In both American and Native American cultures, the eagle represents power through its speed and majesty in flight.

Carter would first sketch his sculpture on paper, then model it in small scale with clay or wood. Only then would he use a chainsaw to build the general form of the work from a giant log. Finally, he would use a double-bitted ax and other traditional hand-held tools to create the character of his piece. He believed that electronic chainsaws, while fast, removed all the personality and idiosyncrasies that make a sculptor’s work special. Occasionally, he would forgo planning and sketching in favor of finding inspiration in the natural shapes of driftwood from beaches.

Carter’s work is also displayed at Chinook Middle School, the Redmond Senior Citizens home, the entrance to Marymoor Park, and the Seattle Art Museum. Despite living around his work, I had never noticed it. Next time I’m at Bellevue Square, I’ll be sure to look for “Forest Deity”.

For more information, a documentary titled “Dudley Carter” was made in 1982.


By Alice - EHC Youth Volunteer