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By Dan Rudy 

Names given to faces on some stored totems


Dan Rudy/ Wrangell Sentinel

A killer whale adorns the midsection of the Charlie Tagook Totem, a pole identified by master carver Steve Brown as one commissioned by Wrangell business owners more than 75 years ago. It and six other poles were moved to the Wrangell Cooperative Association carving facility and cultural center in March.

Seven totem poles transferred this spring from city storage at the boatyard to Wrangell Cooperative Association's new cultural center have been identified.

The Tribe contacted master carver Steve Brown, sending him photographs of the retired poles in hopes of shedding some light on their identities. Coming to Wrangell in 1984, Brown had learned the local style and had worked on recreating a number of local totems and wood pieces, and was instrumental in the restoration of the Chief Shakes House completed in 2013.

Of the totems it has in its possession, WCA ultimately hopes to recarve eight of them, including two of the ones moved in March. Those and the five others had been in storage since 1997 – most longer than that – and were in varying conditions.

Largest of the totems that were moved in March was the Sun Totem, which Brown identified as an original design of Civilian Conservation Corps carvers. It was crafted for the Shakes House dedication potlatch after that building's restoration in 1940. Standing at its southeastern corner, at 58 feet, the totem was the island's tallest.

Currently stored outside of the center, the Raven Totem depicts figures from two different poles that had once stood at Old Town, further south on the island. The figures include Grandfather of Raven, his Daughter/Mother of the Raven-child, and a Raven with folded wings. Brown identifies the bottommost figure as a shaman who could divine the direction for migration using a magical staff.

"The name of this figure escapes me, but can be found in H.P. Corser's book 'Totem Lore,'" Brown wrote.

The pole was carved by William Ukas, or Yiika.aas, and put up in 1896 according to newspaper articles at the time. It was first erected in front of a modern balloon-frame house belonging to George Shakes, and the pole's raven imagery reflected his clan affiliations.

Brown found that during the 1960s the Shakes property was sold to Wrangell's Baptist church, which built on property overlooking the harbor where the house had been. As the area evolved into Church Street, the Raven Totem remained where it was until 1978, when a storm toppled it. Shattered, a piece of the Mother of Raven was taken from the pole and purchased by a corporation in California.

A copy of the pole was carved by Brown and carver Wayne Price in 1986, which now stands at the Totem Park on Front Street.

The Kiks'adi or Kahlteen Totem was also carved by Yiika.aas, commissioned by a clan leader in 1894 or 1895. Brown recognized it as an original, which he and Price had copied around the same time as they had the Raven Totem. That copy can also now be seen at the Totem Park, in the same hole where the original had stood.

"It was written that since the pole was to represent his wife's people, the Kiks'asi clan, he did an especially fine job with the sculpture of the pole, and the work on this totem certainly reflects such inspired work," Brown commented.

He identified the topmost figure as Deix Shaa, or Two Women, a mountain located on the mainland. The figure's face is the mountain's spirit, with a white corona and crown above representing the mountain itself. Just below it is the large Frog, the Kiks'adi clan's primary emblem. Below that, an older version of Raven is meant to instruct a younger version, though that piece is missing. Brown suggested the smaller head had been taken from the pole while it was being stored at the Institute. At the totem's base is the Beaver standing on a large oval sphere.

The One Legged Fisherman Totem is another fashioned by Yiika.aas, and Brown suggested it may have been the last he carved before his accidental death in 1898. Topping its figures is a large bird, possibly Thunderbird. Distinctive to the pole is the inclusion of two wooden ropes carved to run down its length, bearing two salmon on each.

"The pole was constructed as a grave or memorial totem for one of the Nanya.aayi, I believe named Kauk-eesh. It stood next to the grave, which also had a Euro-style headstone with name and date on it," Brown explained.

The totem would have been at the old Native cemetery bordering Heritage Harbor. Brown said it was based on two much older poles from Old Town. He identified the carver of at least one of those as Kadjisdu.axch, a craftsman noted for his carving of the Shakes House's four houseposts. A fragment of one of the

two poles is on display at the museum, and Brown noted it was one of the few left over from Old Town. The paints used on that fragment were applied by students at the Institute in 1957.

The Strong Man Totem was another CCC copy, in this case reproducing one of Wrangell's very first standing totems.

"It's not one of the better CCC copies, but it's pretty good," Brown wrote.

He pointed out a fragment

of the original is on display at the Wrangell Museum.

Heavily weathered, it is

missing the topmost figure of a clan leader wearing a hat, which is visible on the

copy. The original had stood to the south of the Shakes

House, likely put up

after the Civil War but before 1875.

"It was a great pole, very old style Tlingit sculpture, and not the same style as any of the other Wrangell totems, so it was likely made by someone from another village," Brown reported.

Brown identified the Charlie Tagook Totem as carved in 1940 by Charlie Joe Tagook, a Tluxax'adi carver from

Dan Rudy/ Wrangell Sentinel

This small-scale replica of Wrangell's Raven Totem had been crafted by CCC volunteers prior to World War II as a gift for the Roosevelt family. Evidently unopened from its packaging, the totem and the other miniature beside it were eventually returned to Wrangell Cooperative Association. The two were not among seven poles moved from city storage in March.

Haines. Commissioned by private citizens, it was erected at the north end of Front Street on the east side. During the 1970s it was moved to the north end of the lot where City Hall now stands.

With its yellow

pigments almost worn away, another copy of the Raven Totem is at the center. Judging by its colors and style, Brown pointed out this one had been commissioned at the turn of the 20th Century for Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe in Seattle. Its carvers were likely from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, possibly inspired by images of Wrangell's Raven seen on postcards circulating at the time.

Tribal administrator

Aaron Angerman said WCA is working on securing storage to keep the totem poles safe

until they can be recarved. In the meantime, visitors to the cultural center will be able to check out the craftsmanship for themselves.

Angerman explained WCA will eventually bring to town master carvers, including those from among the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian tribes. The goal then will be to restore or replace the older poles while training up local carvers in the process.


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