Totem pole to be raised at museum in Chicago

Work will replace art recently returned to Cape Fox Natives

Posted: Monday, March 12, 2007

KETCHIKAN - Nathan and Stephen Jackson have totem poles around the country, and the newest, a 14-footer, will be raised at the Field Museum in Chicago.

The Jacksons were commissioned by the museum to create the pole for its permanent collection.

Nathan said the museum started talking to them about the pole two years ago, but "we didn't have the log." When the Cape Fox Corp. donated the log, they were able to start.

Janet Hong, project manager for exhibitions at the Field Museum, said that Nathan and Stephen will be artists in residence for two weeks this month so people can watch them finish the pole.

The pole raising will be April 2 and a private dedication celebration will be held April 4, she said. Three representatives from the Cape Fox Corp. are scheduled to attend the celebration, as are representatives of Chicago-area tribes.

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"The pole will be inside a museum gallery so there isn't a traditional raising, but I think Nathan will sing a song and say a prayer as the pole is installed," Hong said.

Stephen said the totem pole was commissioned to replace one the Field Museum returned to the Cape Fox Natives in compliance with the federal Repatriation Act passed in 1990. The repatriated poles were taken by from Cape Fox by Harriman Expedition in 1899.

"The Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C., the Burke Museum in Seattle and the Field Museum in Chicago wanted poles to replace the ones they had returned," Stephen said.

Hong said when the repatriated pole was returned by the Field Museum, the people of Cape Fox chose a red cedar log as a goodwill gift to the museum. The museum chose Nathan and Stephen as carvers.

"It's a real honor to have this new artwork in the gallery. It will serve as the iconic object in the gallery that will introduce people to Northwest Coast and Arctic Circle art," Hong said.

The museum is creating a special platform for the pole and it will be one of two large pieces in the exhibit.

"It's sort of a gateway gallery about Northwest Coast and Arctic cultures," she said.

Stephen lives and works in New York so the design was formed through e-mailed pictures and sketches. Stephen said he took a picture of the pole he had created for the Smithsonian Institution and made random distortions of it with photo editing software.

"I e-mailed the distorted picture to my dad and he would fill in the holes with more traditional designs and then e-mail it back to me," Stephen said.

He then redrew the pole to incorporate the designs.

"It's not necessarily a traditional pole, but it is a partial reflection of tradition," Stephen said. "I think tradition has been interrupted, anyway."

Nathan said, "I let Stephen take the lead in design and I incorporated traditional aspects. We just tried to make it work and have the same kind of flow.

"It certainly will be an original piece. But we don't care much for duplicating things that have been done."

He said the pole is asymmetrical, which isn't common for traditional totem poles.

Hong said the museum was excited about getting the pole.

"It is a great collaboration between Nathan and Stephen. It's a really beautiful design and we feel grateful to have a work grounded in this long tradition that is contemporary artwork as well."

Nathan said work started in the fall last year. Most of the work was done in the Saxman carving shed.

Bill Pfeifer helps carve on the weekends and on Wednesday afternoons - his half-day off, Pfeifer said. He helped carve a pole for the Burke Museum in Seattle and will be working on a pole for Sitka through this summer.

"My family originated from Hoonah. When Hoonah burnt in the 1940s, all the artifacts were lost," he said. "My passion is to learn to recreate it. My ultimate goal is to do a totem pole."

He said he has a 26-foot pole at his house that he is working on to "honor my dad and uncles.

"Working with Nathan has let me gain those skills that I need," Pfeifer said. "I also took a lot of classes and worked with (Ketchikan Indian Community) in the dance group and in making regalia. I took classes at the Totem Heritage Center and refined my skills to a point where I could be useful (at the carving shed)."

The unfinished pole was shipped by barge to Seattle in February to be trucked to Chicago. A company there was scheduled to put supports in the back of it, Stephen said. Nathan and Stephen will then finish carving the pole in Chicago. Stephen has a silicone piece he created in New York that he will overlay on part of the pole.

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