Totem Bight Park circa 1945Mud Bight Totem Park. Photo courtesy of Linn A. Forrest.
In 1938, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) developed the Totem Bight State Historical Park. The park, believed to be the site of an old Tlingit fish camp, was part of a larger U.S. Forest Service program focused on the restoration of totems and Native cultural assets. Located in Ketchikan, the site brings together totem carvings of the Tlingit and Haida people, gathered from uninhabited villages. As barter declined and non-Native settlements proliferated, Alaska Natives began to abandon their villages in remote forest areas and move in search of employment. The settlements and totem art they left behind began to deteriorate. In the late 1930s, the native art restoration program set up by the U.S. Forest Service sought to preserve this heritage and also provide employment. The CCC hired Native Tlingit and Haida craftsmen, who in turn trained other recruits in the art of traditional carving. As World War II began, the CCC project came to an end, and left in place the community house and 15 poles. The program was supervised by Linn A Forrest, a U.S. Forest Service architect, whose notes and photographs have served as a primary sources for many of the Living New Deal’s entries on Native totem art.
The park was initially called Mud Bight and was planned as a model village, but was never completed. As World War II began and the need for relief work declined, the CCC phased out its operations at Totem Bight. The site contains a replica of a nineteenth century clan house, and 13 totems carved in the Tlingit and Haida styles. Only one of the poles, representing a halibut topping a bare pole, is an original carving. The park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.
Part of the Totem Bight photographic and ethnographic material published by the Living New Deal was provided by courtesy of Linn A. Forrest (1905-1986). Forrest was 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.
Garfield, Viola and Linn Forrest, 1961, The Wolf and the Raven, Seattle: University of Washington Press, p. 71-99.
Larry Rakestraw, Totem Pole Restoration, Interview with Linn A. Forrest, August 1, 1971.
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.
Totem Bight State Historical Park, The Story of Totem Bight, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, accessed August 28, 2017.
Project originally submitted by Brent McKee; Steve Forrest (with documentation courtesy of Linn Forrest) on July 15, 2017.
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