Originally published in The Taos News, Tempo Section >>

by Tamra Testerman | December 23, 2021

Spirits of nature: Kachina carver Glenn Fred

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Master Kachina carver Glen Fred comes from the Hopi village of Bacavi. He is “towards the bottom in age” of a family lineup of 8 girls and 8 boys. His father served as the village governor several times. The young men of the Hopi family learn to carve the Kachina dolls as a rite of passage, a sacred initiation. Fred’s older brothers, uncles and village elders taught him the Kachina Dancers represent the spirits of nature, which he connects to now with every carving. 

Today, as a master carver, Fred is “known for his powerful design sense, refined carving skills and an elegant simplicity. Each figure expresses a monumental dignity that represents both the artist and his people.” His carvings are in museums, galleries and collections all over the world, and he is an award-winning artist. 

Fred said the road to carving Kachina Dolls “isn’t a secret. We are first exposed to kachina carving and other forms of traditional practices within families and they become a rite of passage as one gets to a certain age.”

He said “over the years, Hopi carvers found a source of income with their carvings and through art shows, developed their styles and expressions. I am one of those artists that began doing shows and, through competition, developed my signature style. It has been about 20 years since I’ve done a major art show and now I’m doing things at my pace and trying other disciplines. My most recent adventure is attending an art school and learning about interior design and I’m now thinking about where to apply what I’ve learned.” 

Fred said he carves “in a meditative state. The dolls are like my children, and they become a part of me. I have days when things come to mind and other times when I contemplate what my next project will be, and often do commissioned work. So it would be just a matter of selecting the piece of wood, and sometimes I have a good idea of the coloration, shape, and the grain of the wood. I then envision what would be the perfect project for the piece of wood.”

He learned to carve with “the basic tools such as the file, handsaw, sandpaper and a knife. We had limited access to modern tools and over the years I’ve collected different tools and power tools so my capabilities, and other carvers are enhanced. Using paints also progressed over time, from natural pigments to watercolors, to acrylic and oil-based paints, a choice used by today’s Kachina carvers.”

Fred said he finds inspiration steeped in nature on his daily predawn runs. “Running is a tradition for the Hopi people and they teach us the significance of self-sacrifice to benefit humanity and the universe. Although we are taught the concept at an early age, it didn’t register with me until later years what it meant. 

I began running cross-country in high school, but abandoned the sport after graduation. A few years ago, I started running again to maintain a healthy habit. Things changed for me, tragedies in the family and around me had me wallowing in my grief and questioning myself and my beliefs. 

I began running early in the morning before sunrise, and found solace and comfort in the early hours and my senses opened to the environment and the spiritual world which I had neglected since my early teachings. I have now become more aware of my surroundings and try to decipher situations when out of the ordinary things happen around me. 

Since the virus has affected the world, things have changed, not only what people are aware of, but what people are not aware of. I used to see birds feeding on the cornmeal that I put out every day during my prayer, but they no longer come. Something seems wrong.”

Glen Fred is planning a series of lectures about traditions, symbolism and carving techniques in 2022 at Chimayo Trading Del Norte. Chimayo Trading Del Norte has several of Fred’s Kachina dolls in its gallery. He’s been with Chimayo for over 20 years , starting representation with owner Gabriel Abrums’ father, John Abrums. For visual details about the work of Glen Fred, visit the Chimayo Trading Del Norte website chimayotrading.com. Or visit the gallery next to San Francisco de Asís Mission Church, a historic and architecturally significant building on the main plaza of Ranchos de Taos.

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