New Totem Pole at the Carnegie



A crowd of about 200 turned out on a frigid Saturday morning for the “raising ceremony” for“The Hunt,” a totem pole crafted on the premises by Native American artist Tommy Joseph.

Unveiling The Hunt on Dec. 14

The Dec. 14 ceremony, in the museum’s third-floor atrium, included a short talk by Joseph himself. The Tlingit artist hand-carved the 16-foot-tall totem over about three weeks from a Prince of Wales Island red cedar shipped from his native Alaska. It stands permanently outside the museum’s Hall of American Indians, somewhat curiously situated in a space between and just behind two Corinthian columns of polished stone.

Because totem poles are about story-telling, Joseph’s talk was especially apt: He told the story behind the story he’d incised into the wood.

The pole depicts two Native American hunters in a small skiff, along with the culturally important figures of a raven and a salmon. One of the hunters is holding a seal and biting its tail. The signage explains this is a true story: The seal had been speared and was threatening to escape, and the hunter saw no other way to hold the animal than with his own choppers.

Good yarn, but Joseph, 49, did it one better: The man with the strong bite was his own father. And Joseph had learned the story — “at a garage sale at my house” —- only 15 years ago, nearly three decades after his father was lost at sea.

By the way, Joseph’s dad hung onto the seal long enough for his hunting partner to shoot it. “I thought, ‘This is a story I’ve gotta tell,’” Joseph told the crowd on Saturday.

Morgan Redmon Fawcett (left) and Tommy Joseph
  • Morgan Redmon Fawcett (left) and Tommy Joseph

I asked Joseph whether it felt strange for one of his creations to come to rest indoors, and he said no: Although Tlingit totem poles have traditionally been located outdoors, they started, after all, simply as carved house posts.

The half-hour event also included a traditional musical performance by Joseph’s fellow clansman Morgan Redmon Fawcett, who sang two songs in Tlingit and accompanied himself on a hand drum played with a mallet.

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