The next time you’re enjoying the view of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains from Steinbrueck Park, check out the two 50-foot, cedar totem poles boldly standing at the western edge of the park. Marvin Oliver selected trees for the artworks from the Skagit National Forest and then roughed out the two poles. James Bender designed and carved the traditional Untitled Totem Pole (1984) after the original concept by Oliver. He carved the Farmer’s Pole (1984) after working with architect Victor Steinbrueck on the design and concept.
The Untitled Totem Pole, based on traditional designs of the Haida people, depicts not a prescribed legend, but symbolic figures that recognize qualities of nearby Pike Place Market, as well as the surrounding city. From the top, the figures include Raven holding a Salish woman’s spinning whorl, Human holding a potlatch of prosperity, Little Human the messenger, Killer Whale or Blackfish, Little Raven and Bear holding a hawk.
The unconventional Farmer’s Pole was inspired by a totem near Ketchican, Alaska that features Abraham Lincoln standing on top of an unadorned pole. Farmer’s Pole is tapered and uncarved except for a man and woman standing back-to-back at the top. They both wear badges that read “Honored Farmer-1984,” referencing badges awarded to long-time Pike Place farmers by the Friends of the Market organization in 1981.
Steinbrueck created the vine motif of the dark green fence that runs along the perimeter of the park. A co-designer of the park, he also played an instrumental role in preserving Pike Place Market from developers in the 1960s. The park was named for him after his death in 1984.
Bender is an artist known for his Northwest Coast Native American artworks. Oliver is a well-known Northwest sculptor and printmaker. He has created many public artworks, including A Salish Welcome (2010), which is part of the city of Seattle’s collection.
The artworks were funded by Parks and Recreation and the former Department of Community Development as part of a Federal Urban Renewal Project.
IMAGES: Top two: James Bender and Marvin Oliver, Untitled Totem Pole (1984), carved cedar. Bottom two: James Bender and Victor Steinbrueck, Farmer’s Pole (1984), carved cedar. Located at Victor Steinbrueck Park, 2001 Western Avenue.
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.