Totem pole combines tradition, new style

Posted: Tuesday, April 03, 2007

CHICAGO - A new 15-foot totem pole that marries traditional carving styles with contemporary techniques was erected Monday at The Field Museum, replacing a pole that was returned to an Alaska tribe.

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The new totem pole was carved by a father-and-son team from a western red cedar tree given as a gift to the museum from the Tlingit community of Cape Fox, Alaska.

In 2001, the museum returned one of its most treasured items - a 26-foot totem pole removed from Southeast Alaska in 1899 by a scientific expedition - to the Tlingit people.

The new pole was carved by Nathan Jackson, a master carver and member of the Chilkoot-Tlingit Tribe of Alaska, and his son, Stephen Jackson, a sculptor based in New York City.

Nathan Jackson's wife, Dorica Jackson, did much of the painting. She also helped her husband navigate the Internet when their son sent his proposed design and follow-up changes via e-mail.

Following months of work in the family's workshop in Ketchikan, Alaska, the three have been putting the finishing touches on the totem pole for the last two weeks, working in front of the public in the museum's massive Stanley Field Hall.

The trio had been toiling for 24 straight hours to finish the pole before it was installed Monday morning.

The result is a totem pole painted in brilliant colors of red and turquoise. Like the pole it is replacing, it features representations of a bear and birds. But in a nod to contemporary art, it also features an abstract, swooshing, molded silicone element created by Stephen Jackson.

"It was challenging, because maybe my ideas have diverged a little bit from his," said Jackson, who began carving with his father at age 14. "We were trying to figure out common ground. I think we did - we found some."

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