IACA Journal: Winter 2014 - page 11

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to carve a totem pole with a steak knife.
It wasn’t happening,” he laughs.
Today, the town of Sitka alone has 11 of
his standing totem poles. Others are in
Washington, Chicago, Ohio, Pennsylva-
nia—even Germany.
When I visited, Tommy was working
on a special Sitka community pole for
the local Family Justice Center. It is a
memorial pole for past, present, and
future victims of domestic violence and
their children. Since all totem poles tell
stories, the grade school children were
asked to come up with stories, poems,
drawings, and designs explaining what
peace meant to them. From that, Tommy
incorporated the symbols of a dove, a
rainbow, a fawn, a mother embracing her
children into the totem pole.
Acquiring a tree for a totem pole is no
easy task. Tommy travels to Prince of
Wales Island, the next large island south
of Baranof, looking for suitable red
cedar. He drives the logging roads and
walks the forest looking for a tree with
the ideal height, straightness, diameter,
and lack of lower branches that would
create knots. He can get three to four
totem-pole lengths from a 120-foot-tall
tree. He then obtains Forest Service
permission and hires a logger to cut it.
The tree is shipped to Sitka on a barge
and hauled by trailer to his workplace.
Finally, often alone, he maneuvers the
two- to three-ton log with ropes and
jacks to finagle it into place.
“Every person that handles the log jacks
the price higher,” Tommy explains.
Totem pole carvers of Tommy’s caliber
typically receive about $1,500 to $2,000
a foot, or as much as $60,000 for a pole.
But it can take six months to a year to
carve and raise a pole.
Above right: Josephs has been carv-
ing wood since he was eight years old.
Bottom: Carving the memorial pole for
victims of domestic violence.
Photo by Cindy Ross
Photo by Cindy Ross
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