Raven Pole at WrangellPhotographed circa 1940-1945. Photo courtesy of Linn A. Forrest.
Tlingit craftsmen enrolled in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) restored the Raven Pole in 1940. The restoration was part of a larger U.S. Forest Service program focused on the restoration of totems and Native cultural assets. Seven of the poles surrounding the Clan House at the Chief Shakes Historic Site are reproductions of older poles, while two are originals. All were carved in 1940 as a Civilian Conservation Corps project.
Harry Corser describes the symbolic meaning of the Raven Pole motifs in his 1910 volume, Totem Lore of the Alaska Indians. “The totem is surmounted by the Raven Creator. On the older poles he is represented as a man. The hat is supposed to be a copy of one that the young Raven saw in the Creator’s house. The box is a chief’s box, supposed to have spiritual power, and was used in potlatch feasts. The Raven’s beak is bent. There is another legend, however, which explains the same phenomenon by saying that the Raven once disguised himself as a fish and that a fisherman caught him and pulled off his nose. Afterwards by a trick he found out where the nose was and by another trick secured it and put it back on again, but did not get it on straight. After the flood the Raven disappears from his tory. Below is the young Raven, the Creator of man. He is represented as a raven with a man between the wings. This is to show that he could become a raven or man at will. Below is the daughter of the Creator and the mother of the young Raven. The lowest figure of all is Hi-yi-shon-a-gu, the Indian Atlas, who holds up the earth. Hi-yi-shon-a-gu was the first mother of the Raven before his reincarnation.”
Part of the photographic material published on this page by the Living New Deal was provided by courtesy of Linn A. Forrest (1905-1986), a practicing architect who photographed the totem poles at the time of their restoration, between 1939 and 1941. Forrest oversaw the joint program of the Forest Service and the Civilian Conservation Corps to recruit Alaska native carvers in the restoration and recarving of totem poles throughout Southeast Alaska. Employed by the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon, Forrest transferred to Juneau, Alaska in 1937, where he undertook the totem restoration as one of his first projects. Under his supervision, indigenous carvers preserved and restored 103 totem poles and three Tlingit and Haida community houses. Forrest documented the restoration process and maintained notes and a photo record of a significant portion of the work. He used a Leica camera designed for the then new Kodachrome 35mm color slide format.
Corser, Harry. "Totem Lore of the Alaska Indians," 1910, Katchikan: Ryus Drug Co., p. 15, accessed July 28, 2017.
Kiks.adi Pole, The Alaska Herpetological Society, accessed July 27, 2017.
Project originally submitted by Steve Forrest (with documentation courtesy of Linn Forrest); Brent McKee on July 29, 2017.
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