KETCHIKAN — A Ketchikan museum is working to document, catalog and store hundreds of totem pole fragments retrieved decades ago from southeastern Alaska villages.
The Totem Heritage Center project is operating on about $8,000 in grant money administered by Museums Alaska from the Rasmuson Foundation. Hayley Chambers, the museum department’s senior curator of collections, said the money has provided better storage for the fragments, which range in size from slivers of wood to complete sections of a pole, The Ketchikan Daily News reported.
“Some of the fragments tie directly back to a pole, some were found near a pole but we don’t necessarily know that they were connected to any specific pole,” Chambers said. “… Part of what I’ve been doing is trying to sleuth out what our records say about the pole fragments, and then trying to match those with what information we have.”
The fragments kept in the basement of the 40-year-old museum were originally erected in the Haida village of Old Kasaan and Tlingit villages on Tongass and Village islands. Many poles were brought to Ketchikan by the American Legion Post in 1929 and distributed in locations throughout the city. Others remained at the villages, where they were collected from 1969 to 1971 during the totem retrieval project, Chambers said.
One fragment features a long, painted face and comes from the Coast Guard totem pole. It was removed from Village Island and relocated to the Annette Island Coast Guard base before it was brought to Ketchikan for storage in 1968.
The paint on the pole has mostly deteriorated, but paint on the fragments still shows up in red, white and blue on the wood, Chambers said.
“The blue paint, especially, is so vibrant,” she said.
The recording of information about the fragments and the way that they are being arranged and stored at the museum will allow carvers and researchers to better examine the pieces.