Totem Bight State Historical Park, The Clan House – Ketchikan AK


The Clan House is a replica of a community house representative of houses built in the early nineteen-century native villages of Southeast Alaska. It served as the chieftain’s dwelling and it also housed several families part of his clan. The structure and its totem art did not originally existed on the current site. The site was a fish camp prior to being turned into a totem park. The paining decorating the façade was created by Charles Brown. It represents a stylized raven figure painted in light blue and brown colors. The eyes of the raven are composed as two stylized faces. Such elaborate decorations were rare for clan houses and typically suggest significant wealth. A central post divides the façade and marks the low entrance, while two additional posts mark the corners and flank the front of the structure. Sitting on the corner posts, a man figure wearing a spruce root hat and a crest design on his face, holds a cane and appears ready for a dance or potlatch.

The central room of the house can fit as many as 50 people. It has a fireplace, which was shared in common by the families living in the dwelling. The families were of the same lineage as the chieftain, and were allotted a separate parts of the dwelling. Belongings were stored under the removable floorboards.

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.

Source notes

Garfield, Viola and Linn Forrest, 1961, The Wolf and the Raven, Seattle: University of Washington Press, p. 71-99.

Totem Bight State Historic Site, National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, 1970, accessed July 15, 2017.

Totem Bight State Historical Park, Master Development Plan, Department of Natural Resources, 2013, accessed July 15, 2017.

Totem Bight State Historical Park, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, accessed July 15, 2017.

Project originally submitted by Steve Forrest (with documentation courtesy of Linn Forrest); Brent McKee on July 19, 2017.

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


Location Info

Totem Bight State Historical Park
Ketchikan, AK

Coordinates: 55.41960420375892, -131.77310632831114

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