Native American totem poles: a work of art
I hope you are doing good and are enjoying all of what Mother Earth has to offer 🙂 For those of you who do not know, I live in Vancouver, BC, a city filled with the Native culture, the culture of the Indigenous Pacific Northwest native people but also of a lot of different nations. The cultures are alive and there to be known. And I think that is just awesome that I get to live in such a place! In this beautiful city, there is also an equally beautiful famous park named Stanley Park. It is a gorgeous park surrounded by the Pacific ocean with numerous attractions for all. Including the Vancouver aquarium, a pool, a lighthouse and most importantly beautiful displays of Native American art. Yes I am taking about beautifully crafted and carved totem poles. A whole bunch of them for your viewing. Indeed, Native art is everywhere to be seen in this city I live in. Let’s discuss this Pacific northwest art, more specifically Native American totem poles.
totems in Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC
Native American art in Vancouver
I love my city and I cannot hide it 🙂 The Native culture is so alive in Vancouver that no matter where you are, you will see beautiful displays of art. From your arrival at the Vancouver international airport, you will be surrounded by sculptures and totem poles made by local artists. See a few examples below. Those sculptures are scattered throughout the airport and provide a wonderful sight to visitors. As for me, they represent home.
Raven house posts by Roy Henry Vickers, red cedar-1990
Flight Spindle Whorl by Susan A Point, red cedar-1995
Once one leaves the airport, it only takes a walk through the city core to run into randomly placed Northwest Native sculptures literally on the corner of streets. Public art is alive and colorful. Each sculpture comes with a title and the artist name. Believe me I tried finding pictures of them but I was not able to. I have to say that most of them are of birds such as an eagle. Not all of them have a native design but some do. I will just have to go take a picture of some of them and add them later 🙂 But how cool is that? Public art right on the streets. Native art is so present in Vancouver that pretty much every prison I have worked in had a totem pole!
totem pole Stanley park
And then there is Stanley park. A little piece of heaven with 8 km of trails alongside the ocean (called the Sea wall). Kind of hard to beat that one….Stanley park is just perfect for an afternoon picnic, a visit to the aquarium, a day at the pool or the beach OR for an afternoon looking at the beautiful Pacific Northwest art on display. Literally in the middle of the park. Indeed, the totem pole display is one of the main attractions. It features beautiful pieces by local artists. The display began in the 1920’s with just 4 totem poles from Alert Bay on the Vancouver Island. The display grew over the years, with the addition of totems from the Queen Charlotte islands, also called the Haida Gwaii islands (hence the name Haida art) and the Rivers Inlet. Some poles were actually carved in the late 1880’s and were loaned to the park.
Serendipity and Orchids
Finally, greeting you at the entrance of the display, you will find the Coast Salish gateways, carved by local artist Susan Point (see her work at the airport above). On the inside, male and female figures greet visitors with the traditional Coast Salish greeting (raised and outstretched arms).
Coast Salish greeting
On the outside, you will see a dancer with a sea serpent rattle and a thunderbird on top and on the picture below you see three grandmothers facing six grandchildren.
dancer and thunderbird
grandmothers and grandchildren
A bit of history on Native American totem poles
Well before we start, let’s clarify that contrary to what some people think, totem poles originate and can mostly be found on the West Coast of Turtle island. Washington, Alaska and British Columbia. Those are the type of places you will find totem poles. Plains or Southwest Indians did not carve totems. Why? Well just think of the types of trees on the West coast. Freakishly tall ones! With lots of good wood for carving such as cedar. Therefore, carvers will be mostly Northwestern or Alaskan. Not all of them but most of them. There is also a debate on whether or not totem poles existed before the arrival of Europeans. It is hard to prove as wood decays over time. But most oral stories will say that yes totem poles did exist before the arrival of Europeans. However, the size of totems probably grew with the arrival of woodcarving tools.
So yes in BC, totem poles are everywhere. There is even a gorgeous one in front of a flooring store two minutes from my house! They are scattered throughout the province. They are gorgeous pieces of native art, if not expensive pieces of art. Probably some of the most expensive native art you will find. But just think of the quantity of wood used (often cedar) and the amount of time spent on carving and painting it. Then the price makes some sense. For example, when I worked for a school district, two artists set up camp in one of the school’s yard to carve a totem. They were there for a week straight working away. And that is for a unpainted totem….For totem poles of different sizes though, you can visit this site for work from Alaskan artists.
Thunderbird and killerwhale totem
What about the animals?
On many totem poles, you will find animals. Now we have to think in terms of relations. What I mean by that is that animals are our relations, as we are all related. Thus animals including birds are there to guide us. We just need to listen. Animals accompany us throughout our life. Depending on what is going on in your life, you might notice a certain animal more frequently around you or you might feel a connection to a certain animal. Those are situations that one needs to pay attention to. The animals will guide you and help you complete your journey. I can say that for me, I often see or hear birds such hawks. Owls also have a special meaning to me. Both are thought to be messengers and related to intuition. Hawks and owls are also known for their clairvoyance or insight. Further, owls are related to deception and bad events. However, they can also warn against bad events and foresee some. They sometimes come to warn you. Some say that owls are a sign of death. But I see it more as a bird that foresees, warns and helps you see all sides of a situation or a person.
Anyhoo…. that is just me. But it is worth paying attention to your relations around you, see if you notice a pattern or one who is popping up more often. How does this all relate to totem poles you ask? Well sometimes people will say that they have a totem animal or a spirit animal. What they mean is that they connect to one animal in particular and that animal is their guide. There is a connection with that particular animal. Whether in reality, in dreams or in characteristics. You can also type in “what is my totem animal” in Google and you will find a ton of quizzes to find out. They vary in length and I would not vouch for their validity. I tried a few and got wolf, deer and eagle…So just go with your own experience, see if you feel a connection to a particular animal or bird. It does not have to be an animal you spend a lot of time with, but more of an animal which lessons you are open to. For some of you, you will know right away what your animal is. For others, it will not be such a quick process. Think of an animal that you see or hear in your life, one you feel a connection to, one you see in dreams, one you collect figurines of, one who might have attacked you in the past. And if you cannot come up with anything, then take the quizzes 😉
Any thoughts about totem poles? Ever seen some from up close? Comment below 🙂
All my Relations