Auk Totem refurbished for its new home

Posted: Tuesday, July 29, 2003

More than 20 years after the 40-foot Auk Tribe totem that used to stand outside Centennial Hall was carved, it is being refurbished in preparation for its installation in the new atrium at Juneau-Douglas High School.

Tlingit master carver Nathan Jackson and his wife, Dorica, are in town this week from Ketchikan to repaint the pole they carved out of Western red cedar in 1981, and to replace some pieces of the wood that had rotted.

They were at work Monday morning amid power tools and building supplies in the atrium, which has not been completed.

"I'm only repairing the one part that has already rotted out," Nathan Jackson said Monday as he removed two of the pole-top raven's claws and smoothed the wood down with an adz.

He began shaping a piece of yellow cedar to replace the claws.

"In this particular case, the wood wasn't really all that great. It's going to be inside anyway, so the section I'm adding is not going to weather anymore," he said.

Dorica Jackson applied new paint to the dog salmon further down the pole. She said she and her husband have carved and painted more than 50 totems.

The pole was commissioned by the Juneau Centennial Committee in 1981. The Jacksons cleaned and repainted it in 2000. During that visit, Nathan noticed pockets of rot from a previous insect infestation and poor wood condition. He recommended the pole be moved inside.

The restoration cost is being funded with donations from the Downtown Juneau Rotary Club and by Juneau residents Mary Ellen Arvold and Dave Hass in memory of their daughter Elizabeth. Museum Curator Mary Pat Wyatt said the donations totaled $15,000, and the totem restoration and relocation also are being supported by many volunteers.

The pole tells the story of the Yaxtetaan people who are of the raven moiety, or tribal subdivision, and come from the Dipper house, according to Jane Lindsey at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum.

The top figure on the pole is a raven, and below that are a few circles etched around the wood's circumference. Under that is a frog-like creature, according to Nathan Jackson, with a crown of stars representing the Big Dipper. Below the frog are a dog salmon, a weasel and the Lucky Lady, from the legend of the Aak'w people.

The Jacksons will finish the restoration job today, Dorica Jackson said, adding that the work is easier this time than it was in 2000.

"In 2000 when we did repair work, it was standing up at Centennial Hall. It's 40 feet high, and there were Taku winds. It's very nice to be working on it flat," she said.

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