Artist: Don Yeomans
Title: Talking Stick
These images represent a commissioned sculpture by Haida/Metis carver Don Yeomans. The Haida people come from Haida Gwaii, also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, located about 150 km. West of the Northern British Columbia coast.
The sculpture looks much like a totem pole, and measures about 22' high, with a diameter of about 18". This sculpture pictured is a commissioned site-specific piece, intended for an interior placement. Though the piece looks like a totem pole, it is actually a very large-scale talking stick. A talking stick is also known as a Speaker's Staff. The talking stick or Speaker's Staff is held by the speaker, the speaker would stand by the chief and relay the message of the chief to those assembled.
The large scale talking stick pictured, carved by Don Yeomans, is modeled after the talking stick held by the Chieftain figure in 'The Spirit of Haida Gwaii' by the late Haida artist, Bill Reid. The 'Spirit of Haida Gwaii' is one of two bronze casts, measuring about 20' long or 6 m. The 'Spirit of Haida Gwaii' features a large canoe filled with characters central to Haida mythology. One bronze cast is finished with a green patina and is in the collection at the Vancouver Airport Authority, known as 'The Jade Canoe'. The canoe may be viewed in International Departures at the Vancouver International Airport. The other cast is finished with a black patina, and was installed in the Canadian Embassy in Washington D.C. in 1991, and is known as 'The Black Canoe'. The plaster/wood original from which the hollow bronze was cast is on display at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa, Ontario. 'The Spirit of Haida Gwaii' may also be viewed in a number of publications available for sale at Black Tusk Gallery, or sourced through your local library.
One publication sourced here is titled 'The Black Canoe', text by Robert Bringhurst and photographs by Ulli Steltzer, Douglas and McIntyre, Vancouver/Toronto, 1991.
The talking stick held by the Chieftain figure in 'The Spirit of Haida Gwaii' is modeled after an actual talking stick found in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution of Washington, D.C. The Smithsonian talking stick measures 82 cm or 32". We understand the talking stick in question is currently in storage at the Smithsonian. The talking stick was purchased by a collector at Massett in 1883. Massett is an ancient village on the North End of Haida Gwaii. The Smithsonian Institution talking stick thought to be have been owned by Xana, from the Masset area of the late 19th century. There are no records to determine the theory that this is Xana's talking stick, though Xana's memorial totem pole matches exactly the figures seen on the upper part of talking stick in the collection at the Smithsonian Institution. It is these upper figures which are featured in the talking stick held by the chieftain figure in 'The Spirit of Haida Gwaii' by Bill Reid, and the same figures featured in this commissioned talking stick, by Don Yeomans.
The talking stick is said to tell of the story of creation, among the Haida people. "The details of the featured figures in the talking stick are the Raven with human hands, and the Ttsaamuus or Snag in the form of a Seabear (Grizzly with finned arms and a killer whale's tail) The young Raven is emerging from the Snag's mouth" pg. 74, Bringhurst/Steltzer, 1991.
The remainder of the pole is expected to be finished in the next six weeks, and we hope to post additional photographs representing the progress. Additionally, much is to be said about the symbolism of the figures. Please check back.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Totem poles are monumental sculptures carved from large trees, usually cedar, but mostly Western Red Cedar, by cultures of the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America. The word "totem" is derived from the Ojibwe word odoodem, "his kinship group"
Being made of cedar, which decays eventually in the rainforest environment of the Northwest Coast, few examples of poles carved before 1900 exist. Noteworthy examples include those at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, BC and the Museum of Anthropology at UBC in Vancouver, dating as far back as 1880. And, while 18th century accounts of European explorers along the coast indicate that poles certainly existed prior to 1800, they were smaller and few in number. In all likelihood, the freestanding poles seen by the first European explorers were preceded by a long history of monumental carving, particularly interior house posts. Eddie Malin (1986) has proposed a theory of totem pole development which describes totem poles as progressing from house posts, funerary containers, and memorial markers into symbols of clan and family wealth and prestige. He argues that pole construction was centered around the Haida people of the Queen Charlotte Islands, from whence it spread outward to the Tsimshian and Tlingit and then down the coast to the tribes of British Columbia and northern Washington. This is supported by the photographic history of the Northwest Coast and the deeper sophistication of Haida poles. The regional stylistic differences between poles would then be due not to a change in style over time, but instead to application of existing regional artistic styles to a new medium. Early-20th-century theories, such as those of the anthropologist Marius Barbeau who considered the poles an entirely post-contact phenomenon made possible by the introduction of metal tools, were treated with skepticism at the time and are now discredited.
The disruptions following American and European trade and settlement first led to a flowering and then to a decline in the cultures and totem pole carving. The widespread importation of iron and steel tools from Britain, the United States and China led to much more rapid and accurate production of carved wooden goods, including poles. It is not certain whether iron tools were actually introduced by traders, or whether iron tools were already produced aboriginally from drift iron recovered from shipwrecks; nevertheless the presence of trading vessels and exploration ships simplified the acquisition of iron tools whose use greatly enhanced totem pole construction. The marine fur trade gave rise to a tremendous accumulation of wealth among the coastal peoples, and much of this wealth was spent and distributed in lavish potlatches frequently associated with the construction and erection of totem poles. Poles were commissioned by many wealthy leaders to represent their social status and the importance of their families and clans. Christian missionaries reviled the totem pole as an object of heathen worship and urged converts to cease production and destroy existing poles.
Totem pole construction underwent a dramatic decline at the end of the 19th century due to American and Canadian policies and practices of acculturation and assimilation. In the mid-twentieth century a combination of cultural, linguistic, and artistic revival along with intense scholarly scrutiny and the continuing fascination and support of an educated and empathetic public led to a renewal and extension of this moribund artistic tradition. Freshly-carved totem poles are being erected up and down the coast. Related artistic production is pouring forth in many new and traditional media, ranging from tourist trinkets to masterful works in wood, stone, blown and etched glass, and many other traditional and non-traditional media.
Today a number of successful native artists carve totem poles on commission, usually taking the opportunity to educate apprentices in the demanding art of traditional carving and its concomitant joinery. Such modern poles are almost always executed in traditional styles, although some artists have felt free to include modern subject matter or use nontraditional styles in their execution. The commission for a modern pole ranges in the tens of thousands of dollars; the time spent carving after initial designs are completed usually lasts about a year, so the commission essentially functions as the artist's primary means of income during the period.Totem poles take about 6–12 months to complete.
 Meaning and purpose
The meanings of the designs on totem poles are as varied as the cultures which make them. Totem poles may recount familiar legends, clan lineages, or notable events. Some poles are erected to celebrate cultural beliefs, but others are intended mostly as artistic presentations. Certain types of totem poles are part of mortuary structures incorporating grave boxes with carved supporting poles, or recessed backs in which grave boxes were placed. Poles are also carved to illustrate stories, to commemorate historic persons, to represent shamanic powers, and to provide objects of public ridicule. "Some of the figures on the poles constitute symbolic reminders of quarrels, murders, debts, and other unpleasant occurrences about which the Indians prefer to remain silent... The most widely known tales, like those of the exploits of Raven and of Kats who married the bear woman, are familiar to almost every native of the area. Carvings which symbolize these tales are sufficiently conventionalized to be readily recognizable even by persons whose lineage did not recount them as their own legendary history." (Reed 2003). House front poles were meant to show the success of the families.
Totem poles were never objects of worship. The association with "idol worship" was an idea from local Christian missionaries, who would have seen their association with Shamanism as being an occult practice. The same assumption was made by very early European explorers, but later explorers such as Jean-François de La Pérouse noted that totem poles were never treated reverently; they seemed only occasionally to generate allusions or illustrate stories and were usually left to rot in place when people abandoned a village.
Vertical order of images is widely believed to be a significant representation of importance. This idea is so pervasive that it has entered into common parlance with the phrase "low man on the totem pole." This phrase is indicative of the most common belief of ordering importance, that the higher figures on the pole are more important or prestigious. A counterargument frequently heard is that figures are arranged in a "reverse hierarchy" style, with the most important representations being on the bottom, and the least important being on top. Actually there have never been any restrictions on vertical order, many poles have significant figures on the top, others on the bottom, and some in the middle. Other poles have no vertical arrangement at all, consisting of a lone figure atop an undecorated column.
 Shame poles
Poles used for public ridicule are usually called "shame poles", and were erected to shame individuals or groups for unpaid debts. Shame poles are today rarely discussed, and their meanings have in many places been forgotten. However, they formed an important subset of poles carved throughout the 19th century.
One famous shame pole is the Lincoln Pole in Saxman, Alaska; it was apparently created to shame the U.S. government into repaying the Tlingit people for the value of slaves which were freed after the Emancipation Proclamation. Other explanations for it have arisen as the original reason was forgotten or suppressed, however this meaning is still clearly recounted by a number of Tlingit elders today.
Another example of the shame pole is the Three Frogs Pole in Wrangell, Alaska. This pole was erected by Chief Shakes to shame the Kiks.ádi clan into repaying a debt incurred by three of their slaves who impregnated some young women in Shakes's clan. When the Kiks.ádi leaders refused to pay support for the illegitimate children Shakes had the pole commissioned to represent the three slaves as frogs, the frog being the primary crest of the Kiks.ádi clan. This debt was never repaid, and thus the pole still stands next to the Chief Shakes Tribal House in Wrangell. This particular pole's unique crossbar shape has become popularly associated with the town of Wrangell. It was thus used, without recognizing the meaning of the pole, as part of the title design of the Wrangell Sentinel newspaper, where it is still seen today.
A shame pole was erected in Cordova, Alaska on March 24, 2007. It includes the inverted and distorted face of Exxon ex-CEO Lee Raymond, representing the unpaid debt that courts determined Exxon owes for having caused the oil spill in Valdez, Alaska. See the Anchorage Daily News article[dead link] on the pole's unveiling
 Construction and maintenance
Erection of a totem pole is almost never done using modern methods, even for poles installed in modern settings on the outside of public and private buildings. Instead the traditional ceremony and process of erection is still followed scrupulously by most artists, in that a great wooden scaffold is built and hundreds of strong men haul the pole upright into its footing while others steady the pole from side ropes and brace it with cross beams. Once the pole is erected a potlatch is typically held where the carver is formally paid and other traditional activities are conducted. The carver will usually, once the pole is freestanding, perform a celebratory and propitiatory dance next to the pole while wielding the tools used to carve it. Also, the base of the pole is burnt before erection to provide a sort of rot resistance.
Totem poles are typically not well maintained after their erection. Traditionally once the wood rots so badly that it begins to lean and pose a threat to passersby, the pole is either destroyed or pushed over and removed. Older poles typically fall over during the winter storms that batter the coast. A totem pole rarely lasts over 100 years. A collapsed pole may be replaced by a new one carved more or less the same as the original, with the same subject matter, but this requires a new payment and potlatch and is thus not always done. The beliefs behind the lack of maintenance vary among individuals, but generally it is believed that the deterioration of the pole is representative of natural processes of decay and death that occur with all living things, and attempts to prevent this are seen as somehow denying or ignoring the nature of the world.
This has not, however, prevented many people from occasionally renewing the paint on poles or performing further restorations, mostly because the expense of a new pole is beyond feasibility for the owner. Also, owners of poles who are not familiar with cultural traditions may see upkeep as a necessary investment for property, and ignore the philosophical implications.
Each culture typically has complex rules and customs regarding the designs which are represented on poles. The designs themselves are generally considered the property of a particular clan or family group, and this ownership may not be transferred to the owner of a pole (See also Crest (heraldry)). As such, pictures, paintings, and other copies of the designs may be an infringement of possessory rights of a certain family or cultural group. Thus it is important that the ownership of the artistic designs represented on a pole are respected as private property to the same extent that the pole itself is property. Public display and sale of pictures and other representations of totem pole designs should be cleared with both the owners of the pole and the cultural group or tribal government associated with the designs on the pole.
However totem poles in general are not the exclusive cultural property of a single culture, so the designs are not easily protected. The appropriation by art and tourist trinket worlds of Northwest Coast American culture has resulted in, among other things, an inundation of cheap imitations of totem poles executed with little or no knowledge of the complex stylistic conventions demanded by Northwest Coast art. These include imitation styles made by other First Nations and Native American peoples in the various parts of Canada and the American Southwest. This proliferation of "totem junk" has diluted the public interest and respect for the artistic skill and deep cultural knowledge required to produce a pole.
In the early 1990s, the Haisla First Nation of the Pacific Northwest began a lengthy struggle to repatriate a sacred totem from Sweden's Museum of Ethnography. Their successful efforts were documented in a NFB documentary by Gil Cardinal, Totem: The Return of the G'psgolox Pole.
 Totem poles of note
The title of "The World's Largest Totem Pole" is or has been claimed by several towns along the coast:
There are disputes over which is genuinely the tallest, depending on constraints such as construction from a single log or the affiliation of the carver. Competition for making the tallest pole is still prevalent, although it is becoming more difficult to procure trees of such heights.
The thickest totem pole ever carved to date is in Duncan, British Columbia, carved by Richard Hunt in 1988, and measures over 6 ft (1.8 m) in diameter. It is carved in the Kwakwaka'wakw style, and represents Cedar Man transforming into his human form.
Standing a total of 173 feet (53 m) tall, the world's tallest totem pole is composed of two pieces of 168 and 5 feet (51 and 1.5 m). This one is in Alert Bay, British Columbia.
McKinleyville, California—World's Tallest Totem Pole weighs 57,000 pounds (26 t), the base weighs 214,000 pounds (97 t) and the pole stands 160 feet (49 m) high. It was carved from a 500-year old redwood tree from Pacific Lumber Company. It is located in the parking lot to the left and slightly behind Safeway on Central Avenue not far from the Arcata-Eureka Airport (in McKinleyville). Built out of the largest tree ever hauled across a California highway, the totem pole was carved to commemorate the grand opening of the Mckinleyville Shopping Center. Designed in 1962 by Ernest Pierson of Pierson’s Building Center in Eureka, he and a friend carved the monster tree in the parking lot of the center. Pierson called his totem a potlatch or celebration pole to celebrate the opening of the McKinleyville Shopping Center.
Participate in The Far-Flung Totem Project
Carved from mature cedar trees by the Native people of the Northwest Pacific coast (British Columbia, Canada and southern Alaska, USA), full size totem poles are outgrowths of the region's aboriginal art forms. Originally an important part of the Potlatch ceremony, a feast with deep meaning to coastal First Nations, totem poles were once carved and raised to represent a family-clan, its kinship system, its dignity, its accomplishments, it prestige, its adventures, its stories, its rights and prerogatives. A totem pole served, in essence, as the emblem of a family or clan and often as a reminder of its ancestry.
In times past, a totem was raised for several reasons:
Today, totem poles are carved for both Natives and non-Natives. They have come to represent Northwest Pacific Coast Native tradition and pride.
To grasp the symbolism hidden within a totem pole try this mental exercise: envisage the Great Seal of the United States or the Coat of Arms (the Armorial Bearing) of Canada. (Look them up on the internet if you need to.) These national emblems are roughly equivalent to the meaning bound up in a totem pole. The Great Seal with its Eagle, shield and arrows features symbols, assigned a certain meaning, and representing qualities the United States chooses to identify with. In the same way, the Coat of Arms of Canada features a lion and unicorn, maple leaves, fleur de lis and a motto, that sums up its ideal national identity. As for totem poles, they once performed much the same function for Native bands. A big Native family grouping, not just a mother, father, sister, brother, but a whole Clan of relatives, who were related by blood, by experience, by war exploits, and by adoption identified very strongly with the crests and figures carved on their totem pole.
In general, totem poles (like Coats of Arms and Great Seals) mean: "This is who we are; these carvings symbolically show what we stand for." Additionally, Natives felt they had special rights to claim a link to the super-human beings they depicted on their poles. These special links included: being "descended from ...." or having recently "encountered ..." or having received "a gift from ...".
Some poles embody one-of-a-kind stories or unusual symbols. These stories or symbols are known in their entirety only to the pole's owner and the carver of the totem pole. If the pole's owner or carvers gave an account to a relative, granted interviews to academics, or left a written record, these unusual meanings are known. If not, hidden or special meanings are lost over time.
The secret to uncovering the meaning behind a totem figure, and the symbolism behind emblematic crests such as Bear, Wolf, Half-man, Sea Serpent, Glass Nose, Hawk, Red Snapper, or Wild Woman is to see the figures, sort them out, learn to identify them through photographs, and discover the myriads of stories that have been revealed and recorded.
Totem poles made by Northwest Pacific Coast First Nation's carvers for their own people portray the owner's deeply meaningful symbols and family crests. However, Northwest Pacific Coast First Nation's carvers also construct totem poles for non-Native people -- technically not part of the old totem tradition. This practise has evolved, however, to become an important part of the modern tradition and is legitimate. Since authentic full size totem poles today, cost in the region of $25 000 to $60 000 each, outsiders usually commission them to commemorate a great event or a great "coming of age," to symbolize a pact between nations, or to illustrate some sort of bond between Native people and the company or government entity who commissions the pole.
To be authentic, a totem pole needs to be "sanctioned." That means that it must pass certain tests. First, it must be made by a trained Northwest Pacific Coast native person, or in rare cases, a non-Native apprentice who is approved by a Northwest Pacific Coast Band from coastal British Columbia or Alaska. Secondly, it must be raised (and blessed) by Northwest Coast natives or elders who are part of the totem pole tradition. Chain saw artists, non-Native imitators, or (non-apprenticed) Natives from bands far away from the Northwest Pacific Coast do claim to produce "totem poles". But under the rules of the Northwest Pacific Coast native totemic tradition, they are fakes.
Small argillite or wooden totem poles, made for the tourist trade, are "real," under the following conditions:
A great number of the miniature totem poles found in souvenir stores fall into the last catagory. However, they are not "authentic" if an outsider just "made them up."
Once a person learns about totem poles, it is easy to spot fakes, because they often break the rules of totem pole assembly-protocol. Fake totem poles are rather like a bad translation of your language if the translator is not familiar with the nuances of words. The translation, like the fake, looks right, but it sounds strange to someone who knows better. (A foreign translation I once saw on English Etiquette contained a handy chapter entitled "For to Visit a Sick.") Once a person has been exposed to good examples of real totem poles and has viewed photographs of the best ones, fake totem poles become obvious.
MAKE BELIEVE, MAGIC "TOTEMS:" Recently, the word "totem" has come into use as part of the elaborate "Dungeons and Dragons" game playing stategy. Players give and receive "totems," a talisman-like magical-charm that is said to empower its users with certain powers and attributes. These include totems named "Parrot," "Jaquar," "Tiger," "King Arthur," etc. Some New Age artists and jewellers also employ the "totem" as a image for various qualities they imbue into the object. Confusion arises if these groups claim their artificial "totem" constructs are part of the "ancient" First People's practise of building totem poles. These types of talismen-totems are/were not part of any Pacific Northwest Coast First Nations' traditions. Totem poles are emblems, not talismen. The difference is significant.
Groups of faces and figures piled one on top of the next, woven into patterns with repeating shapes combine along the height of a totem pole to produce a mystical portrayal of something wondrous. Though it is technically an oversimplification to say that Bear means "dignified self-sacrifice" or Wolf means "powerful healing" or Sea Serpent (Siskiutl) means "bravery in war" these interpretations contain a kernal of meaning within them. However, it is in knowing the entire First People's story behind each figure that totem poles really come alive.
Northwest Pacific Coast Native stories involve the easy transformation of animals into humans or vice versa, or the transformation of supernatural beings into humans.They involve whole villages of Salmon or Whale people who live happily in underwater cities; powerful beings who live deep within whirlpools in the ocean, smelt copper, and periodically change into Frogs; wild creatures who steal children, try to eat them, are caught, burned and transformed into Mosquitos; giant Thunderbirds who swoop down from the sky and snatch up giant Whales to eat for dinner; Wolves who, at night, change into bony, yet attractive Ghost People, and Wolves who grow tired of hunting in packs on the land and change into hunting packs of Killer Whales.
The excitement of these stories comes because these events really happened in a time not so long ago, (oh yes, they did!) and still continue to happen for those whose eyes are opened by stories.Once the First Nation's story has been told, and the figure has been identified, why, totem poles come to life.
These and many, many other interesting totem stories are told in the book: Totem Poles.
Numerous totem poles continue to stand tall, in various locations, sometimes singly and sometimes in clusters all along the Northwest Pacific Coast from Seattle, Washington, along the coastal regions of British Columbia, Canada up to southern Alaska. They are located in city squares, outdoors along highways, tucked away in Native reserves (reservations,) clustered in heritage sites, or preserved in various museums. (All are specifically identified in the book "Totem Poles.") Many are located in cities: Seattle WA, Vancouver BC, Victoria BC, Prince Rupert BC, and Ketchican AK, but visitors must know on which street to look. Others are found by adventuring into the outback and arranging a camera safari to find them. A map and written directions in the book pinpoints these locations.
Record setting totem poles attract everyone's attention: the world's tallest presently points skyward in Victoria BC, and the world's oldest, original (indoor) collection is being cared for in Ketichikan AK. Other record breaking poles include the worlds thickest totem pole, in Duncan, BC and the world's second tallest pole in Alert Bay, BC. The world's most viewed totem poles, about 8 million visits a year, (Vancouver Parks Department figures) are in Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC, Canada.
Eco-tourists, the new wave of specialty travellers now exploring the byways of North America, love to discover breath-taking scenery and to appreciate the First People who inhabit an area. They and all others with a spirit of adventure find this guidebook an invaluable way to plan camera safaris to all sorts of totem poles: accessible, remote and semi-remote. The magic of these carved tree trunks is undiminished by time, particularly at the now declared UN World Heritage site, a haunting Haida village of decaying totems, the oldest outdoor collection, abandoned about 1835 and now accessible by water on Anthony Island, Ninstints, Queen Charlotte Islands, BC.
Such a common expression, and so incorrect .... one wonders how it persists. At first glance it might appear that the lowest figure on a totem pole, has the weight of an entire menagerie on top, and obviously lacks status. Go surfing the Internet to any number of academic sites and see the number of acamedians who whistfully refer to themselves as "low man on the totem pole." Interestingly enough, the low end of the totem pole is very important. Totem poles are carved, not by one carver, but by a chief carver and a number of apprentices. The chief carver is well aware that the viewers of a finished upright pole, range in size from 3 feet (children) to about 7 feet (basketball players.) So, to be certain the totem looks professional and well-executed, the chief carver personally carves the bottom ten feet of the pole and allows the inexperienced apprentices to carve the higher regions. The most intricate and best carved figures are usually placed on the bottom end with the story thinning out towards the top. Many poles (but certainly not all of them!) are topped off with Thunderbird, sort of a generic capper figure, something like a Christmas star, who often has far less meaning than all the carefully thought out symbolic creatures carved into the lower regions. If anything, the lower figures on a totem pole are slightly more important.
These and many, many other interesting facts are explored in the book: Totem Poles.
There are a number of myths about totem poles and the rich traditions that surround them.
The following statements are untrue; (true statements in brackets)
Poles of the Pacific Northwest Coast
An Altitude Superguide
by Pat Kramer
112 pages, 153 full color photographs including 15 full page bleeds, 10 archival photographs
Quick Image: Book Cover
An excellent resource!
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carvers who will take orders of poles are:
TITLE: Gordon Dick Nuu-chah-nulth Artist
Carves Jewellery & Wood, Functional Art
Artist, Carver, Pole Carver, Jewellery carver, Print Maker
DESCRIPTION: A Nuu-chah-nulth Artist who enjoys making Jewellery and wood carvings. He explores many mediums and creates functional Art.
Cody Mathius 604-988-0684
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