Arts Profile

Franklin Peters: Traditional Tlingit carver

Posted: Thursday, September 21, 2000

Carving hooks: Traditional Tlingit wood carver Franklin Peters has made masks, halibut hooks, plaques, paddles and figurines. His first piece was a long, narrow seal bowl, a tableware item traditionally used to serve seal oil. It now belongs to his wife.

Peters, 59, is Eagle-Wolf, and grew up in Sitka.

"My dad's from Angoon and my mother is from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. She's Athabaskan and my dad's Tlingit," he said.

Questions from tourists: This summer, Peters has been carving at Totemic Treasures, a downtown Juneau art gallery, demonstrating his techniques as he produces artwork to sell. The season is winding down, and this is the last week he'll be carving in the shop. He said he's enjoyed talking with the tourists.

"I don't get tired of questions. I just talk about what they're interested in. It is fun," he said.

His willingness to talk about his carving and his heritage while he works earned him a two-week trip this summer aboard a cruise ship plying the Inside Passage. He completed three pieces under the watchful eyes of an international group of travelers.

"I was more interested in them," he said.

Totem lowdown: He said the tourists were most curious about totem poles. They wondered if they are religious symbols, and asked why so many were torn down and burned. He explained that they are not religious and many were destroyed in the past because of that misunderstanding.

"Traditionally, they were identified with potlatches and different parties," he said. "They built a ridicule pole in Wrangell, because the guy wouldn't pay his debts."

Peters once collaborated on a 2-foot-tall totem with another carver. His largest carving is a shark mask on display at Totemic Treasures.

Peters said because he is Eagle, he can't carve traditional Raven designs without permission. He recently asked and received permission to carve a Raven headdress, which he plans to trim with abalone.

Harder than it looks: He started carving three years and a half years ago. He belongs to an informal group of carvers who meet one evening each week to carve and share tips and lessons.

"I thought it was pretty simple to carve. Then I found out it's complicated to know where to put the designs," he said. "Sticking to traditional form lines, (while) trying to develop my own style. It just takes more time studying and carving."

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