| From the late 1800s until 1934 in the U.S. and 1951 in Canada,
the potlatchthe great system of celebration, honoring, witnessing,
and wealth redistributionwas banned in an effort to kill indigenous
cultural ways. Potlatch-related activities, such as carving, were
banned. Authorities confiscated regalia. People who went to potlatches
were arrested and jailed. And yet, the cultural ways survived.
Among those who defied the unjust laws of the time were the
artists who continued to carve regalia masks, house posts, great
totem poles, and sea- and ocean-going canoes. Heres a list
of some of the carvers and their artistic heirs whose legacy is
a culture that is living and thriving. This list is by no means
Edenshaw, Haida (1839-1920) For three months this year, the
National Gallery of Canada exhibited 80 objects created by Edenshaw,
calling him one of the most innovative artists working on
the West Coast at the turn of the 20th century.
He was in his mid-40s when Canadas anti-potlatch laws
were enacted, yet, according to the National Gallery, his deep-seated
belief in Haida traditions
gave him the agility and fortitude
to thrive as a Haida artist during oppressive colonial rule.
His works included bentwood boxes, masks, rattles, staffs and
totem poles. He advanced gold and silver engraving in traditional
formline design. He had, the gallery wrote, an ability to
animate Haida stories in his carving. He was interested in
new materials and visual ideas and, according to the Dictionary
of Canadian Biography, may have been the first Haida artist to work
in silver and gold.
Edenshaw produced many commissioned works; major collections
of his works are housed in museums in Chicago, New York, British
Columbia, Quebec, and Oxford. His drawings were published in the
anthropologist Franz Boass 1927 book, Primitive Art. And his
work was first exhibited as fine art in 1927 by the
National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa; the exhibit later travelled
to the Musée du Jeu-de-Paume in Paris.
John McCarty, Makah (c. 1850- unknown) McCarty, whose Makah
name was Hishka, was a hereditary chief whose uncle signed the Treaty
of Neah Bay in 1855. Hishka carved canoes used in whaling and sealing
and had a whaling canoe of his own, said John McCarty,
Hishkas namesake and grandson. He said a sealing canoe carved
by his grandfather still existed in the 1950s.
Hishka also created a large Thunderbird with moveable wings
and beak, which was used to tell the story of how Thunderbird captured
a whale for food. Hishkas grandson and great-grandson made
a similarly dramatic presentation when the Makah Nation hosted the
2010 Canoe Journey: they created a large whale with moveable fins,
eyes and mouth. Singers sang a song to wake up the whale, its eyes
opened, and dancers came out of the whales mouth.
Hishkas descendants continue his legacy of service to
the Makah Nationhis son, Jerry, served as chairman. His namesake
grandson served as director of the Makah Whaling Commission and
dances the chiefs song he inherited from his grandfather,
and his great-grandson, Micah McCarty, served as Makah Nation chairman.
Micah McCarty continues his great-grandfathers work on
behalf of Makahs culture and people. Hes served as chairman
of the Makah Nation, and was a 2012 finalist for the Ecotrust Indigenous
Leadership Award. Ecotrust wrote that McCarty has strengthened response
to oil spills in coastal waters, has helped to protect tribal whaling
rights, and has fostered strong connections between tribal and non-tribal
Charles Edwards, Samish (1866-1948) The
Samish Indian Nation had a reputation for its skilled craftsmen,
historian Bret Lunsford wrote in his book, Anacortes. To that reputation,
Edwards contributed The Telegraph, a famous racing canoe carved
circa 1905, now on display at a museum on nearby Whidbey Island;
the Question Mark 2, a racing canoe carved in 1936 after the original
Question Mark went into retirement (it now resides in Virginia);
and a 60-foot pole in 1938 that depicted important cultural figures.
The 1938 pole was removed in 1981; the carved images were restored
and are on display in the Swinomish Tribes social services
building. Swinomish artist Kevin Paul carved a replica pole that
was raised in 1989.
Edwards was also a leader and advocate for Native treaty rights.
He represented the Samish before the U.S. Court of Claims in 1926
in Duwamish, et al Tribes of Indians v. United States. His son,
Alfred, served as chairman of the Samish Indian Nation. A great-granddaughter,
Barbara James, is treasurer and former vice chairwoman of the Swinomish
Shelton, Snohomish (1869-1938) At a time when his people
were disallowed from speaking their language and practicing their
customs, Shelton devoted his life to preserving and sharing the
traditions of the Snohomish people through art, public presentations,
and his book, The Story of the Totem Pole or Indian Legends, written
at the Bureau of Indian Affairs request. (The book was republished
in 2010 by Kessinger Publishing, which specializes in rare, out-of-print
Sheltons works included a longhouse and a story pole on
the Tulalip Reservation; a story pole commissioned by residents
of the City of Everett; a 37-foot story pole for a park in Freeport,
Illinois; and a story pole, requested by his states governor,
for the state capitol grounds.
In 1931, he was a speaker at the dedication of a bronze and
granite marker commemorating the 1855 signing of the Point Elliott
Treaty; other speakers included a member of Congress and the governor.
Shelton passed away before his final pole was finished and the
work was completed by other Tulalip carvers. There was some symbolism
in that; historian Margaret Riddle wrote on HistoryLink.org that
Sheltons accomplishments served as the bridge for following
generations who found new ways to continue his work.
William Shelton carves a story pole circa 1920. He wrote a book
about totem poles and Native stories, and used his art to build
bridges of understanding between Native and non-Native peoples.
(HistoryLink.org/Museum of History and Industry)
Mungo Martin, Kwakwakawakw (1879-1962)
Martin was raised in the potlatch tradition of the Kwakwakawakw
and hosted the first public potlatch since his governments
potlatch ban of 1884. His career was long and prolific; he carved
his first commissioned totem pole in Alert Bay around 1900.
1947, Martin was hired by the Museum of Anthropology at the University
of British Columbia to restore and create replicas of sculptures,
totem poles, masks and other ceremonial objects. Between 1952 and
1962, he created new and replica poles for Thunderbird Park at the
Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria. Among his monumental
works: Wawaditla, a Kwakwakawakw big house; a 160-foot
totem pole that remained standing until 2000; and the Centennial
Pole, presented to Queen Elizabeth to commemorate the 100th anniversary
of the founding of British Columbia. This pole stands in Windsor
Great Park near London.
In his later years, Martin sang and recorded songs, and prepared
novices for Kwakwakawakw ceremonies.
Martins descendants include some of the most accomplished
Northwest Coast Native artists: Richard, Tony and Stanley Clifford
Hunt are his grandsons; Shirley Hunt is a granddaughter; Jason and
Trevor Hunt are great-grandsons.