October 15, 2013

Bringing a Native American story pole home

This 37-foot story pole stood prominently for nearly 70 years in Krape Park in Freeport, Illinois.

Photo courtesy of the Freeport Park District.
It's colorful carvings represent interrelated stories hand-carved by renowned Coast Salish artist and Snohomish Tribe leader William Shelton, who began carving story poles in the early 1900s to revitalize and increase understanding of Native American culture.

A photograph from 1912 or 1913 shows Shelton carving. (Negative No. NA859, Ferdinand Brady Photographic Postcards PH Coll 139, University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections Division)
In an earlier blog post we describe the whirlwind quarter-century where Shelton carved at least sixteen large-scale and medium-sized story poles for public display across the United States. This pole is one of them.

Unfortunately, after standing in Krape Park since 1935, Shelton's story pole eventually fell into such severe disrepair from weather and bug infestations that it had to be taken down.

Photo courtesy of the Freeport Park District.
The Freeport Park District debated what to do with the decaying pole as it sat in their storage facility, ultimately deciding that the Burke Museum's large Northwest Coast collection, expertise, and connection to the artist's region made the Burke the ideal place to send the pole.

We want to help bring the pole home, but transporting it nearly 2,000 miles across the country presents a significant obstacle.

We're raising funds to transport the pole in a forty-foot-long crate from Illinois to Seattle on the back of a flat-bed trailer.

Upon its arrival in Seattle, it will need to be fumigated immediately so that only the pole - not the bugs living in it - take up permanent residence in our collection. Only then can our Ethnology collections staff begin the next steps of preparing the pole for restoration.

Photo courtesy of the Freeport Park District.
Getting to Seattle is the first step in a much longer journey for the pole, but this new phase of its history can't begin without your help. To make a donation, see our project budget, and learn more about donor benefits, visit our power2give/Puget Sound project page.

Every object has a story – we hope you will be part of this one!