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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


August 11, 2001 - Issue 42


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Pilchuck Totem a Big Step Forward for Haines Studio


 by Paula Dobbyn Anchorage Daily News-July 31, 2001


 Photos © Mike Hagen used with permission

Last year, and for many years, it was an ancient tree growing in the rain forest of Prince of Wales Island in soggy Southeast. Next month, it'll be an avant-garde neon and glass object on display at an international art school outside Seattle.

Alaska Indian Arts, a nonprofit studio in Haines, is breaking ground through a collaboration with the Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Wash., on a 20-foot red cedar totem pole. It's meant to commemorate the school's 30th anniversary and honor its founders, one of whom is Dale Chihuly, widely recognized as the world's premier glass artist, said Pike Powers, Pilchuck's artistic director.

Since 1957, the Haines studio's artists have produced totem poles, paddles, jewelry, beadwork and a variety of Native regalia. But with the Pilchuck project, the artists have moved beyond traditional materials like wood and paint to incorporate glass backlit with neon lighting.

"What's gotten me really excited about it is the blending of these seemingly incongruous elements," said Michelle Glass, Haines' tourism coordinator. "This is a big notch in the belt for Alaska Indian Arts."

The project is also a boon for the remote town in the northern panhandle, which is trying to enhance its reputation as an artists' community, Glass said.

Since January, five master carvers in Haines have been preparing the pole, purchased from Kootznoowoo Inc., the Native corporation for the village of Angoon. On Monday, a 90 percent finished pole, without the neon and glass, was shipped on a barge from Haines to Seattle, where it'll be trucked to the art school, 50 miles north. During August, art students will complete the final stages by carving glass elements into the pole and installing subtle neon lighting behind them.

The neon backlighting will resemble abalone, said Lee Heinmiller, president of Alaska Indian Arts. The decorative shell is sometimes used in Native masks.

As with all totem poles, this one tells a story. The bottom figures represents a chief holding a copper money piece to honor the generosity of one of the school's founders. Above that sits a raven with a sun, a reference to the Tlingit creation story and Chihuly's work in founding the school. The top figure represents a woman in a Native ceremonial robe with a conical crest, honoring one of the school's female founders. The pole should be finished by the end of August.

Alaska Indian Arts is also getting ready to ship a 22-foot totem pole to actor James Earl Jones this week, Heinmiller said. The figures and images on the red cedar pole depict Jones' family history and honor his African-American, Cherokee and Irish heritage, he said.

The studio typically charges $2,000 per foot, so a 20-foot totem would cost $40,000, not including shipping charges, Heinmiller said.

  Maps by Travel

Alaska Indian Arts
Alaska Indian Arts is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the art and culture of the Northwest Coast Indian tribes. Alaska Indian Arts is also the headquarters for several of Alaska's outstanding craftsmen and artisans.

Pilchuck Glass Studio
Pilchuck Glass School was founded in 1971 by artist Dale Chihuly with the support of patrons Anne Gould Hauberg and John H. Hauberg. Chihuly envisioned a retreat that would offer artists an opportunity to work with and learn about glass amid the spectacular beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Chihuly's vision quickly became a shared reality for thousands of artists from around the world. Today, Pilchuck is the world's largest and most comprehensive educational center for artists working in glass, and an international model for visual arts education.

Pilchuck Glass School Totem Pole
Here are some pictures of the totem pole that Alaska Indian Arts is carving for the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington. These pictures will be updated about once a week.

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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