Fred Graham was born in the South Waikato town of Arapuni. His talent was recognised and nurtured at Ardmore Teachers Training College, where he was encouraged to specialise in teaching art. From there he developed an interest in sculpture, teaching himself to carve in wood and stone and later experimenting with steel as he established his career as a sculptor.
Graham was part of a collective of artists who ran a teaching initiative which brought art education to rural Māori communities in Northland. This group, including artists such as Cliff Whiting and Paratene Matchitt, was known as ‘The Class of '66’ after the show they organised in a church hall in Hamilton in 1966 called Contemporary Maori Painting and Sculpture. Graham’s sculptures are a unique fusion of Māori and European cultures, often combining traditional wood and stone with modern materials to explore sometimes controversial issues. He has many sculptures displayed in prominent public spaces in New Zealand.
In 2014, Fred Graham – Creator of Forms, Te Tohunga Auhaha by Maria de Jong was published. It reveals the stories behind Graham’s life and art – from his early career as an art teacher to his emergence as a revered figure within the contemporary Māori art movement. He says, “I was born in 1928 – 64 years after the Battle of Orakau. At primary and high school the stories and songs were those of Britain and Europe. While I enjoyed this dimension, I am Māori, so my art is all about reminding people that Aotearoa also has poems, stories and waiatas, things which make us different to other Commonwealth communities.”