Thursday, July 7, 2011

Saxman Totem Park - June 26, 2011

Saxman Totem Park is located just south of Ketchikan on the Red Line Bus route. The park is located on a hill and many of the totems are along the road going down the hill.

The Eagle and the Beaver

The Giant Rock Oyster Pole
This pole has carved emblems of four related house groups: The Eagle Claw House, whose crest appears at the top. The human body with claws instead of feet symbolizes the Eagle CLAW House as distinct from other Eagle clansmen.  The two beavers represent the Beaver Dam House and the Beaver Tail House. The face at the base represents the Giant Rock Oyster House. This pole is a genealogical record and was  dedicated as a memorial to the descendents of these four houses.
The man whose hand is caught in the oyster recalls the tragedy that gave his relatives their name. The complete story along with many other interesting stories and histories of the totems is found in The Wolf and the Raven - Totems Poles of Southeastern Alaska by Viola E. Garfield and Linn A. Forrest.

Kats and His Bear Wife
This pole was carved and set at the front of the house, framing the entrance. "The top figure is the grizzly bear woman who became the wife of Kats, who occupies the main section of the pole. The small faces in his ears and nostrils symbolize the keen animal senses developed during his sojourn with the bear. The animal ears, between which the bear wife sits, show that Kats was no ordinary man but possessed supernatural posers. These two figures symbolize one legend. The opening at the base of the pole, serving as an entrance to the house, also represents the entrance to the bear's den. The two figures above the entrance represent descendants of Kats many generations later." From The Wolf and the Raven p. 30-31
The Pointing Figure
Set up sometime between 1890 and 1900 to mark a grave.

The ravens are everywhere.  I could hear these two making so much noise and had to get their picture.  I love the way it looks like silhouettes.

Eagle and Beaver Pole

The Lincoln Pole
The pole was dedicated as a reminder of the protection received during battle from a company of soldiers and a revenue cutter Lincoln, not as a memorial to the man himself. 

I overheard a tour guide saying that the Lincoln figure was carved using a photograph. The picture only showed Mr. Lincoln down to his knees, which accounts for the short legs.

Dogfish Pole
At the top of the pole is a bear, one of the main crests of the Wolf clansmen who owned it. Below is a clan member holding the tail of a dogfish, or mud shark, which is also a crest of the group. The wolf with an animal head and human body represents  Wolf clan members. The human figure with head down represents a debt owed. At the base is another bear symbolizing the clan members who claim that crest.

 Raven Pole
Below the raven is a bear and then two supernatural beings.

The Loon Tree
The loon tells of a legend of a time when it was dark (before Raven brought light or during an eclipse) when a loon lead the people to light. The three bear cubs and the bear wife holding her husband Kats represents many stories of Kats.

Many of the deteriorating totems are being preserved, copied and replaced with new poles. There were a pair of these in the park. We talked to one of the park's carvers and they are working on the replacements.

The eagle tops many totems.

The Clan House

I could not find any information on this particular pole. However, it is an interesting work. I am sure it has an equally interesting story.

The Carvers' Workshop

Inside the carvers' workshop.

They work on other projects, not just totems.

Donnie Varnell, one of the carvers. Donnie gave us a lot of his time. He told us of the work going on at the park. This totem and its matching one outside will replace two of the deteriorating poles in the park. 

Donnie explained the process of making a pole. Here shows the center having been hallowed out. This will fit over a post planted deep in the ground when it is finished.

Donnie had been commissioned to do the totem above. He told us it was not his normal style. This book showed us some of his original works. I have seen this particular one at the Totem Heritage Center in Ketchikan. Donnie seemed pleased that I recognized and remembered it.

Juel loves the totem poles.

Inside the shop
Here an older pole is being protected from further deterioration due to weather.

The flowers are so beautiful. I have to remember that even though the temperatures are cool (50's and 60's mostly) this is a rainforest. I love this color.

These frogs decorated the log running along the entrance to the upper part of the park.

Standing near the Lincoln pole is the Secretary of State Pole. This is for William H. Seward who, more than any other one person, was responsible for the purchase of Alaska from Russia. The blank space and height indicates high honor, respect, importance.

The Frog Tree
The book describes this carving having been dedicated to the memory of a Kiksetti woman. Her name was Two (Frogs) on a Drifting Log, hence the name of the pole.  However, Gary Lang (Sitka carver) later described this totem when he was telling us of totems called Shame Totems. These were placed to indicate that a large debt was owed due to some shame.  

Masks and drums and other art found inside the shop.

Back on the Red Line Bus for home. Here is the tunnel that is supposedly the only tunnel in the world that you can go through, around and over.

The eagle near the tunnel in Ketchikan with a cruise ship in the background.

1 comment: