September 24, 2009

Story of a pole raising

On the afternoon of September 23, a crowd of at least 100 people crammed into the lobby of the UW Tower for a very special celebration. The festivities were surrounding the Burke Museum’s recently acquired totem pole, carved by well-known Tsimshian artist David Boxley, and we were proud and excited to raise the pole in the University of Washington Tower for those who pass through that building to enjoy.

There is a nice story behind how the Burke acquired this pole: in the late 1990s, Warren and Ellie Guntheroth (Warren is a physician at the UW) commissioned David Boxley to carve a pole for their home, partially in memorial to their Siberian Husky, Sasha. The pole was dedicated at the Guntheroth home in 1999. When Ellie passed away a few years ago, Warren decided the pole needed to be moved to a place where future generations could enjoy it, as he and his wife had, and generously donated the pole to the Burke Museum.

The pole, as it stood outside the Guntheroth's home:

As the pole had been standing outdoors for ten years, it required some touchup work by David before it could be reinstalled at the university:

Then, a rededication ceremony helped introduce the pole to its new home: the UW Tower lobby. The unveiling of the pole itself was very exciting and dramatic!

Following the unveiling, David and his friends in the Git-hoan (People of the Salmon) Dance Group treated the crowd to several dance numbers, many written by David himself.

Their performance was a great reminder of the living culture that thrives in Native communities, like the Tsimshian, today. In the words of David, “The traditions are ours, but there needs to be a witness.” Now, for as long as the pole remains in the UW Tower, all people who pass by it will be the witnesses to a beautiful work of art, and to one piece of the Tsimshian tradition.

The artist, David Boxley, speaks about his culture and his craft.