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New gallery name honours carver Robert Frederick

Artist Jennifer Pighin designed the new sign welcoming visitors to the Robert Frederick Gallery.

The art gallery at the University of Northern British Columbia is being re-named after the late Robert Frederick, an accomplished Lheidli T’enneh carver, storyteller and educator.

Frederick, a member of the Lusilyoo Frog Clan, was a descendant of Letric Cho (patrilineal) and Sapheria Prince (matrilineal). Frederick began learning from elders at an early age. Said to have an impeccable memory, Frederick absorbed the traditional ways and traditional legends of his people, lessons he passed along to younger generations.

His father, along with other elders, gave him his first introduction to carving. In later years, Frederick entered a carving program under the guidance of master carver Ron Sebastian. With that training, Frederick created his first dugout canoe, commissioned by Huble Homestead. The City of Prince George commissioned his second canoe and a fibreglass replica is mounted in front of city hall. The original was donated to UNBC and resides in the gallery that will now bear his name. 

“My late husband Robert Frederick left a memorable legacy for his family and community. How fitting it is for this ceremony to happen on the week of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation,” said Edie Frederick. “This really helps to break some of the inter-generational cycles. In his last years, Robert worked very hard on his projects as well as his own healing journey.”  

Formerly known as the Rotunda Gallery, the space is located on the first floor of the Teaching Laboratory. The gallery, managed by the UNBC Arts Council, offers curated exhibits to develop emerging visual artists through increased access to and awareness of visual arts at UNBC and in the community. All exhibits at the gallery are free. 

“The UNBC Arts Council is honoured to facilitate the gallery renaming in memory of Robert Frederick,” said UNBC Arts Council member and UNBC English Professor Dr. Rob Budde. “He was an influential teacher and created wonderful and powerful memories at this institution.” 

At UNBC, Frederick shared his knowledge with students as an instructor and guest lecturer in First Nations Studies and English classes. In 2013, he and Edie taught First Nations Studies 298, Dakelh Culture: Making a Cottonwood Canoe – Ts’i. In the class, students helped to build a canoe and launch it into the Nechako River. In 2014, he assisted in teaching First Nations Studies 161, Building a Pit House. 

“Through his teaching and storytelling, Robert imparted wisdom, shared his expertise and challenged students to think critically about our connection to the land,” said UNBC President Dr. Geoff Payne. “The Robert Frederick Gallery is a special space at our campus where the UNBC community can engage with complex topics through curated exhibits and showcase the creativity of our students, faculty and staff.” 

Frederick began his classroom education at Lejac residential school at the age of five and attended the school for five years. Throughout his life, Frederick made many friends but always held a special place in his heart for his brothers and sisters at the residential school.

“We are very pleased and proud that UNBC has renamed the art gallery on its Prince George campus the ‘Robert Frederick Gallery.’ This recognition helps to strengthen the partnership between our nation and UNBC,” said Lheidli T’enneh First Nation Chief Dolleen Logan. “Robert helped people better understand our history and culture through his teaching and storytelling. The renaming of the art gallery at UNBC the ‘Robert Frederick Gallery’ is a very fitting way to honour his legacy.” 

A naming ceremony reception sponsored by the UNBC Arts Council and ‘Ut’loo Noye Khunni – Weaving Words Celebration will be held at the Robert Frederick Gallery on Sept. 28. The event begins at 5 p.m. and features Edie Frederick, the Khast’an Drummers, Kyle Sam, and Jennifer Pighin.

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