Posted on March 3, 2017
While in Ketchikan for the Alaska Library Conference, I discovered it is an important place for art from many cultures. Southeast Alaska is the traditional home for Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian Indians. They all make complex and beautiful art, and totem poles are common in the Ketchikan area.
Totem Bight State Historical Park (http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/totembgh.htm) is a site that has restored historical totem poles and some copies of old ones from the area, plus a traditional clan house. Many of these were created or restored during the Depression through the CCC program.
Saxman Village’s Totem Park (http://www.alaska.org/detail/saxman-totem-park) has Tlingit totem poles and a clan house, plus a carving shed where people can watch artists at work. We were lucky to talk with the master carver Nathan Jackson there. Not only is he a gifted artist, but he’s also one of the most modest and nicest people I’ve met.
The Totem Heritage Center (http://www.ktn-ak.us/totem-heritage-center) preserves old totem poles from Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian villages. Some of them are on display, and others are held in an archive. The Center also has displays and classes for other cultural art such as baskets and bentwood boxes.
If you travel to Ketchikan, give yourself an extra day or so to see these totems. You’ll be glad you did.