Saxman Totem Park, Kats and His Bear Wife Totem – Saxman AK


The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) relocated the Kats and His Bear Wife totem from a village in Southeast Alaska to the newly established Saxman Totem Park. The CCC set up a totem restoration project in 1938 and Tlingit carvers enrolled in the CCC lead the work.

In the 1961 volume, The Wolf and the Raven, anthropologist Viola Garfield and architect Linn Forrest describe the visual characteristics of the Kats and His Bear Wife totem: “The carving of Kats and His Bear Wife was set against the center of the front of a tribal house, framing the entrance. It was used only on special occasions, as there was another door which the family used ordinarily.

The top figure is the grizzly bear woman who became the wife of Kats, who occupies the main section of the pole. The small faces in his ears and nostrils symbolize the keen animal senses developed during his sojourn with the bear. The animal
ears, between which the bear wife sits, show that Kats was no ordinary man but possessed supernatural powers. These two figures symbolize one legend. The
opening at the base of the pole, serving as an entrance to the house, also represents the entrance to the bear’s den. The two figures above the entrance represent descendants of Kats many generations later.”

The photographic material published here 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.

Source notes

Garfield, Viola and Linn Forrest, 1961, The Wolf and the Raven, Seattle: University of Washington Press, p. 13-56.

Saxman Totem Park, National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, 1979, accessed July 1, 2017.

Project originally submitted by Linn Forrest and Steve Forrest on July 13, 2017.

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Location Info

Saxman Totem Park
Saxman, AK

Coordinates: 55.31936942289538, -131.597455912442

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