Tlingit Memorial Totem

This rare memorial totem pole was carved and erected in the area around present-day Sitka, Alaska circa 1894 or 1895 in memory of a Tlingit Indian chief called "Kahl-Teen."

It is almost an exact copy in miniature of the full size totem pole erected in 1894 in Wrangel, Alaska and illustrated in "The Totem Pole Indians," by J. H. Wherry, 1964, page 92 (I have a vintage Albumen print of that full size totem taken in 1894).

Memorial poles like this were considered part of a clan's treasures. Often, they referred to the mythical history of the clan. In other instances, as is the case with this piece, they were created to memorialize a particular individual or commemorate a specific event.

The pole depicts highly conventionalized creatures of the Northwest Coast mythology. While their exact meanings are not known, they are most likely crests belonging to the memorialized chief. It retains a wonderful patina, there are traces of greenish blue paint which is quite typical of Tlingit pieces. It is carved from red cedar and has a rich patina where the paint has worn away.

The figure at the bottom is a beaver chewing on a stick, recognizable by the cross hatched tail and large incisors. Incorporated within the torso of the beaver is a fish, most likely representing a halibut or sculpin. The second figure is that of a raven with its beak extending downward and touching the beak of a smaller raven. This is clearly in reference to raven rattles which were a common object type signifying shamanic transformation. The uppermost figure is that of a frog with a human head with bear ears, probably representing an ancestor, emerging from the tail end of the frog. This representation of blended imagery further emphasizes the idea of transformation as the body of the frog also becomes the body of the ancestral figure. From the image it is unclear, however, what is being represented by the way the mouth is rendered. Finally, above the ears of the ancestral figure is another reference to raven with "split" eyes and beak carved in relief on a sort of ovoid panel.

Price on Request
Tlingit Memorial Totem
Historic American Indian Art 1894-1895
8 x 63 in.   Artifact
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