The West Shore Local Hero Awards are back! You can find this year’s special feature in the March 16 edition of the Goldstream Gazette or online under e-editions. Stay tuned for more on each of this year’s nominees, you will also be able to read their stories online at goldstreamgazette.com/tag/local-hero-awards.
Meet the man behind the masks.
Each honouree in this year’s Local Hero Awards will receive a hand-carved mask created by Indigenous artist Howard La Fortune.
A long history of carving runs in his family. Born in Duncan, he has always lived on the Island but settled in Tsawout First Nation about 25 years ago and has been there ever since.
La Fortune started carving about 40 years ago when he quit school at the age of 16 because he couldn’t sit still.
“My brother said I needed something to do, so he showed me how to carve,” he told Black Press Media. La Fortune’s brother was one of the original carvers for the City of Totems project in Duncan.
What he likes most about carving is being able to create something with his hands – “I need to keep them busy.”
And he’s kept those hands busy, carving everything from rings to masks.
Those masks were thrust into the international spotlight in 2020 after a friend joked that he needed a mask to help prevent spreading germs. La Fortune found some yellow cedar he had on hand and carved a half-mask of a bear snout.
“It was something to do, and I usually have wood lying around the house so I thought, why not?”
Catching up with Black Press Media in May 2020, after an initial feature on his masks, he said orders had been piling up from around the globe. He even won the Masked Heroes contest put on by First American Art Magazine.
“That came out of left field,” he said, explaining how a friend told him to submit a photo for the contest. Five days later, he got an email that he’d won.
But even with the increase in demand for his work, La Fortune isn’t cutting any corners.
“I’m taking my time because it’s got to be to my satisfaction too.”
While he’s carving, La Fortune thinks of ways to make his work better and takes his inspiration from the wood.
“(The pandemic) has changed my style of working … I’m doing this for people now – all over – and they’re interested and they want it and it’s made my work better.”
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