‘Open and kind’: Metlakatla remembers carver Wayne Hewson

a man painting a totem pole
Carver Wayne Hewson works on a Killer Whale Clan pole for a potlatch in 1994 in Metlakatla. (Photo courtesy of Lawrence Migdale)

When things were good, they were groovy. When something was cool, it was far out.

Wayne Hewson’s friends and family chuckle recalling how he held onto his ’70s slang over the years. Hewson died unexpectedly last week. He’s remembered as a mentor, a culture bearer and a fixture of life in Metlakatla.

The 69-year-old father of two was a respected carver who lived in Metlakatla with his wife Toni and two sons, David and Daniel. He was in a rock-and-roll band in high school. Later, he was a longtime member of the Fourth Generation dance group.

Dozens of Hewson’s poles stand at Ketchikan’s Rainforest Sanctuary.

a man in Alaska Native apparel
Wayne Hewson dressed in regalia ahead of dancing at Celebration in Juneau. (Photo courtesy of David R. Boxley)

“He was a really open and kind man,” David A. Boxley said. “He was soft spoken. He was really dedicated to his family.”

Boxley is a Tsimshian master artist and close friend and mentor of Hewson.

Hewson’s Tsimshian name was Sm Xsgyiik. He was Gisbutwada, Killer Whale clan. He also was Laxsgyiik, Eagle clan, because Boxley adopted him as his brother at a potlatch years ago.

Boxley worked on six poles with Hewson — including Hewson’s first pole, raised in 1994 at Metlakatla’s senior center.

He remembers Hewson as humble, talented and proud of the cultural revival work he did through the Fourth Generation group.

Boxley remembered that when the dance group was getting started, there weren’t many men who took part. He encouraged Hewson, who showed up to watch with his two young sons, to try it out. Boxley said Hewson hesitated at first, but eventually jumped in and later became one of the group’s leaders.

“You know, people don’t realize how much of an effect they have on their families and their friends and just the world around them, their immediate world,” he said. “I think that was the kind of guy he was, too.”

He was also an inspiration for Boxley’s son, David R. Boxley.

“To me, he was Uncle Wayne,” David R. said.

The younger Boxley remembers how Hewson loved to play music — he was well-known for his affinity for rock-and-roll. His instruments of choice were the drums and guitar.

A crowd raising a totem pole
Wayne Hewson, center, watches as his first totem pole is raised in Metlakatla in 1994. (Photo courtesy of Lawrence Migdale)

“But also, you know what surprises you when you pick up a guitar and just play some beautiful — pick, you know, just something really pretty,” he recalled. “He had a beautiful singing voice.”

He said Hewson was a man devoted to his family.

“Boy, he loved his wife,” David R. Boxley said. “And they were very close. And she was with him on a lot of his pole projects, she helped him paint and they were together, I think 45 years.”

A group of totem poles
Some of the poles that Hewson carved, with his wife Toni’s help, for Ketchikan’s Rainforest Sanctuary. (Photo courtesy of David R. Boxley)

William Bolton met Hewson through the Fourth Generation group. Chuckling, he joked that he always thought Hewson was a little odd.

“He was odd in the way, I guess, that he was friendly, and he didn’t tease like most people do here in Metlakatla,” Bolton said.

Bolton worked with Hewson on a few projects over the years. He said he remembers Hewson as a mentor who was always generous with his time and expertise.

“I think the biggest thing is that he was always willing to give people advice,” Bolton said. “And, he never did it in a way that could be taken as mean or attacking anybody. Just that he was willing to share his knowledge that he had, and didn’t judge anybody for not knowing something.”

An Alaska Native longhouse
Hewson designed and painted Metlakatla’s Longhouse. (Photo courtesy of David R. Boxley)

In the days since Hewson’s death, Bolton said he’s been reflecting on what the man taught him about carving.

“He showed me that other carvers aren’t my competition — that, you know, you could always learn something from somebody,” he said.

Bolton is a teacher now.

“And I think it’s one of the things that he is probably pretty proud that I’m doing now,” he said.

A man in Alaska Native apparel
Wayne Hewson (photo courtesy of Lawrence Migdale)

Clifton Guthrie said that Hewson was someone he looked up to growing up in Metlakatla.

Guthrie said if it wasn’t for Hewson, he might never have completed his first solo pole. He recalled how Hewson calmed his nerves ahead of the pole raising.

“As a carver, I was worried about, like, you’re having guys lift it, carry it, raise it with ropes, and, and he’s the one in charge,” Guthrie said. “And he made a point to put his hand on my shoulder and say, ‘Your job is done now.’”

He said Hewson oversaw the whole event and attended the celebration held afterward. Guthrie decided that as payment, he would give Hewson fresh deer and fish whenever he had it. Guthrie noted he’s keeping up that deal, with Hewson’s wife Toni.

Most of all, Guthrie remembered Hewson as a generous man who always made time for those close to him.

“He made me feel like we had been friends forever,” he said.

A viewing was held in Ketchikan on Monday. A public celebration of life is set for Sept. 5 at Metlakatla Presbyterian Church. Hewson’s remains will be interred in a bentwood box carved by David A. Boxley.

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