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Governor's Totem Pole gets a brief rest during mansion renovations

Posted: April 25, 2011 - 9:27pm
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A closer view of The Governor's Pole that was removed from the front of the Governor's Mansion on Monday.   Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
A closer view of The Governor's Pole that was removed from the front of the Governor's Mansion on Monday.

With little ceremonial fanfare aside from construction workers, house occupants, and passers-by, the Governor’s Totem Pole was moved out of harm’s way Monday as renovation continued on the Governor’s Mansion.

“It wasn’t carved to have any certain ties with a local clan or have a clan ownership connection as far as we know,” Alaska State Museum curator Ellen Carrlee said on site. “If there is anyone who feels that way about the pole then the museum would really like to know about it. The museum doesn’t have that kind of information.”

The Governor’s Totem will be under heavy security on property and kept in a controlled environment until being raised in June.

The Governor’s Totem was commissioned by the Civilian Conservation Corps under the supervision of the United States Forest Service in the late 1930’s. Another Juneau totem, the Yax-te-pole in front of Auke Rec, was also carved during this time. Ernest Gruening was in office as the Governor of the Territory of Alaska and appointed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Architect Linn Forrest was the head of the CCC totem pole preservation project. The totem was carved from 1939-1940 by Charlie Tagook, a Tlingit from Klukwan, and William N. Brown, a Tlingit and head carver from Saxman. Tagook began the work and Brown finished it.

The totem is from a yellow cedar log. It is 31-feet 6-inches tall, 21-and-a-half inches wide at the base, and has a 71-inch-wide wingspan at the top figure. The back of the totem was concave.

In 1997-98 the pole came down for elaborate restoration and a galvanized street light pole was put on the back for support. Some areas and designs were reconstructed or stabilized with sheet lead, copper, and epoxy. The totem was cleaned and sealed again in May 2010 by Carrlee and conservator Ron Sheetz from Martinsburg, West Virginia.

Seven figures carved in the totem depict Tlingit heritage.

Figure one on top is Raven and in descending order are Grandfather Raven, Man, Giant Cannibal, Mosquito, The World, and Old Woman Underneath.

Raven brought light to the world by changing into a hemlock needle, dropping into a stream and after being swallowed by Grandfather Raven’s daughter, born again as a child. He then cried until given cedar boxes and threw the contents out a smoke hole into the heavens making the stars and moon.

Raven then cried until he had the box containing the sun. Raven changed back into his white color and tried to fly away but Grandfather Raven threw pitch upon the fire and he turned black.

Now hungry Raven was mocked by beings and scared them with the sun. Those wearing skins of sea animals fled to the water, those with fur of land animals into the forest.

Raven went to Old Woman Underneath, who held the World on the foreleg of a beaver, for food and she raised and lowered the tides for him to collect nourishment.

Raven became lonely and picked up driftwood and man was created. Over the years, as man hunted, some did not return because they were taken by Giant Cannibal.

A pit filled with sharp stakes at the bottom was made. Giant Cannibal fell into it and then was burned alive. Before he died, Giant Cannibal vowed to bite Man forever and his ashes turned into mosquitoes, which have bitten people ever since.

• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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