Interpreting Cultural Sources – Stage 1 Other totems

Research – Various Alaskan Totems

Betsy Malloy from the California Travel website has kindly allowed me to use her images from 2005.

Abraham Lincoln totemWilliam Seward totem
I love these two totems.  I remember as a child we used to buy fancy ends to put on our school pencils and these totems remind me of those.  The one on the left is Abraham Lincoln and was carved when he was the United States President (you can read more on the website).  On the right is William Seward.  Apparently when he visited the area he promised to return later with gifts.  When he didn’t come the ears and mouth on the totem were painted red as a sign of stinginess.  Now there’s public shame!!

Beaver clan totemEagle clan totem
And here we have on the left the Beaver Clan totem pole, which stands outside the Beaver Clan house in Ketchikan and on the right the Eagle Clan totem which stands outside Chief Shakes house in Wrangell.  I guess that the clans don’t have to actually portray the exact animal of their clan.  It looks like they should be the other way round and the Eagle Clan totem be the one on the left but I’ve taken them as per the website.

Lesson totemShame totem
On the left is the Lesson totem which tells the story of a young boy who ignored warnings about putting his hand into holes by the rocks.  He was trapped by a giant clam and was drowned.  On the right we have the Shame totem pole.  If you look closely you can see a small face upside down.  This indicates that a debt is owed to the village.  Once the debt has been paid the totem is removed and discarded.  It seems like a lot of work for one debt, in my mind.  I wonder how often the debt is repaid whilst a huge statue is still being carved!

Sitka totemThis final image is of the totem in Sitka Totem Park.  Very colourful with a lot of detail and clearly very large.  I wonder how long it takes to carve and paint one like this.  Through my reading I see that quite often the carvers and the painters are different people.

So far I’ve looked at a lot of traditional totems, those with some kind of a cultural heritage and mostly with clan connections and meaning.

For my next post in this section, before moving on to my own project development, I’m looking at the work of a few textile and sculptural artists who have put their own meaning to the word totem.

Photos by permission from Betsy Molloy –

About Claire B

I'm a passionate printmaker, paper-maker and a poor sketcher (which I'm working to improve). I've stitched from early childhood and am a perpetual student, loving learning and participating in everything creative.
This entry was posted in Assignment 1: Cultural Fusion, Textiles 1: Exploring Ideas and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Interpreting Cultural Sources – Stage 1 Other totems

  1. Pingback: Exploring Ideas: Assignment 1 Cultural Fusion – Addendum | TactualTextiles

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