Carving out a lesson

LYNNWOOD — With cedar chips at their feet, the students took their turn with the hand-made elbow adze.

“Hey,” said Austin Mercier, a fifth-grade student at Spruce Elementary School in Lynnwood. “I’m beginning to see its beak.”

Austin and more than 100 other students will spend the school year helping an Indian carver create a totem for their campus. On Monday, they saw an eagle begin to emerge from a cedar log.

The idea is the brainchild of fifth-grade teacher David Tookey who rattles off a long list of academic lessons he envisions for the students, from practicing measurements to learning firsthand about American Indian culture.

There are life lessons Tookey also hopes sink in.

Students in the fourth through sixth grades will get to use the tools of Indian carvers. The project is expected to last until May.

“I really wanted them to get involved in building something instead of just drawing it on paper,” Tookey said. “And one of the big lessons is, this isn’t a video game that you win in five or 10 minutes. This is something that takes time and it must be done right.”

Several students got their first crack at shaping the 12-foot, one-ton Western red cedar log Monday.

Fifth-grader Roman DeLisle, 10, was impressed with the wood-handled adze he wielded to start shaping the eagle’s chest.

“It was actually a great tool,” he said. “It was a lot harder than I thought it would be. You have to cut it certain ways or it’s too tough to cut. We only got a little chunk of it out.”

Classmate Joyleen Escobar, 11, said she was excited her mom gave permission to let her carve. She loved the smell of the cedar. What she liked just as much was the humor of carver Fred Lauth Sr., a native of Hydraburg, Alaska, now living in the Seattle area. He’s a member of the Haida and Tlingit tribes. Lauth’s large biceps are a testament to his 30 years of carving. So is the adze in his tool box. It belonged to his great-grandfather, who used it to carve in the 1880s.

Tookey saw Lauth’s work at a Seattle park and decided to contact him to see if he was interested in working on a project with elementary school students.

The teacher was able to get donations from the Spruce PTA, Tulalip Tribes and a city of Lynn­wood art fund.

However, Tookey didn’t realize all of the logistical challenges ahead.

A first donation of a cedar log fell through and he had to scramble to find a new one over the summer and into September.

Weyerhaeuser Co. agreed to provide a log, but there was one catch: Tookey would have to haul it from Longview to Lynnwood.

So the teacher dialed up Penske Truck Rental, which provided a 24-foot flatbed truck. Tookey drove the truck from the log yard to his school, detouring through Ballard because of an I-5 crash in downtown Seattle.

“It’s all gravy now,” Tookey said. He knows the students are excited to help Lauth create the pole.

On Monday, the carver tried to impress upon his understudies that their work involves the mind even more than the hands.

“You guys need to get in your head that carving is thinking,” he said. “If you are just whacking, that isn’t carving.”

Tookey is glad to have an American Indian carver at the school for a year.

“He is being very generous with his time and expertise,” Tookey said. “We are very fortunate to be working with him.”

Reporter Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446 or e-mail

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