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Weekly Art Hit: ‘Seattle Totem Pole’

Brown GCK74.045.02 While wandering around Pioneer Square, you’ve probably seen the 50-foot carved cedar Seattle Totem Pole standing in the southwest corner of Pioneer Place Park. The totem was created in Alaska in 1940 by native carvers of the Kyan and Kinninook Indian families. The pole was part of a Civilian Conservation Corps project to replace one that had been originally in place there since 1899.

Charles Brown directed the work, with William H. Brown, James Starrish, Robert Harris, William Andrews, and James Andrews on the carving crew.  The replica pole left Alaska on a ship headed to Seattle in April 1940 and was dedicated on July 25 with great celebration.

The original totem pole was acquired from Tongass Island, Alaska by an expedition committee chosen by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. It was erected where the current one stands now but was irreparably damaged by an arsonist in 1938. The pole symbolizes three Tlingit Indian legends with figures representative of the Raven Clan. The hero of the legends is located Brown GCK74.045.03at the top of the totem, while Grandfather Raven, a mythological being known as both a creator and a trickster, forms the pole’s base.

The totem pole was a gift to the city from the United States Forest Service.

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IMAGES: Seattle Totem Pole, 1940, Charles Brown and other native carvers of the Kyan and Kinninook families, replica pole made of polychromed Alaskan red cedar, 50’H x4’6″ diameter. Photos by Spike Mafford Photography.


Weekly Art Hit is featuring artworks every week from the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2000s. to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the city’s public art program.