Saxman Totem Park: Owl Memorial Pole – Saxman AK


The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) relocated the Owl Memorial Pole 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 Owl Memorial Pole: “The owl at the top of the pole was the main crest of the medicine man, or shaman, in whose memory the carving was dedicated. The owl crest is explained by the legend of a woman who disappeared from the village after an altercation with her mother-in-law. She turned into an owl, and her relatives took it as their crest or emblem. People can understand the cries of an owl because it was once a woman.

At the base of the pole is weasel, one of the chief aides of the shaman. Whenever he wanted to perform magic or discover the cause of an illness, the shaman called upon his spirit aides, who gave him information and told him what to do. Since weasel is not a crest, but the property of a very few powerful shamans, it is seldom carved on poles. Were it not for the white body and black-tipped tail, it could easily be mistaken for a wolf. The two tiny faces symbolize spirits and emphasize the supernatural character of owl and weasel.”

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.

Source notes

Garfield, Viola and Linn Forrest, 1961, The Wolf and the Raven, Seattle: University of Washington Press, p. 37, 39.

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

Project originally submitted by Brent McKee on July 14, 2017.

We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.


Location Info

Saxman Totem Park
Saxman, AK

Coordinates: 55.31991731812602, -131.59643935522536

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