SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Images document work on Chief Shakes Tribal House, totem restoration


January 15, 2008

(SitNews) - A Juneau corporation has donated a large collection of old photographs documenting work on a tribal house and totem poles in Southeast Alaska.

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Linn A. Forrest, Sr., Collection
Photograph courtesy Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI)

The collection donated by MRV Architects includes approximately 150 black-and-white photographs documenting reconstruction of the Chief Shakes Tribal House in Wrangell and restoration of totem poles in Sitka in the late 1930s. The donation was mae to to Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI).

"That collection is really important because it documents an important historical period in Southeast Alaska Native life. We're really fortunate in getting this collection," said SHI President Rosita Worl, noting it reflects the growing recognition that SHI has the professional capabilities to care for these types of collections.

The photos were compiled by the late Linn A. Forrest, Sr., an architect who oversaw work on the projects. Forrest later founded MRV Architects, and the collection eventually was passed to the current owners of the corporation, said architect Paul Voelckers, a partner at the company.

Voelckers assumed for years similar images existed, then one day realized he had never seen other photos of the projects. MRV Architects donated the collection to the institute after he realized it might be unique.

"It dawned on us the images might not be duplicative. It might be fresh material, in which case, it would be valuable," Voelckers said.

Forrest was working for the Forest Service when he was transferred to Alaska in the 1930s, said Voelckers. Forrest fell in love with the area and with Native culture and initially worked on projects to reconstruct and restore totem poles through the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a work relief program established in 1933 by President Franklin Roosevelt. He also oversaw reconstruction of some of the most important clan houses in Southeast Alaska. The projects were funded by the government to employ Native people during the Depression, Worl said.

"They came up with this idea of the restoration of totem poles and also some of the architecture, the tribal houses," she said.

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Linn A. Forrest, Sr., Collection
Photograph courtesy Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI)

The photo collection primarily documents two of the many projects Forrest directed in the region. The bulk of the images depicts reconstruction of the Chief Shakes Tribal House and restoration of totem poles in Wrangell. The house was rebuilt in the late 1930s through a $24,000 CCC grant to the Alaska Native Brotherhood. The images show construction of the house (which is a replica of the original house), original and restored totems, carvers and construction employees at work, the dedication ceremony of the completed house, a large traditional canoe used for the ceremony and images of Native Elders connected to the ceremony.

The collection also includes photos of a totem pole restoration project at the Sitka National Historic Park in 1939. These images show carvers at work on old and new totems and views of standing totems at the park.

Through these and other efforts, Forrest became highly involved in local Native life and later co-wrote a popular book about his experiences, The Wolf and the Raven: Totem Poles of Southeastern Alaska, which is still in print.

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Linn A. Forrest, Sr., Collection
Photograph courtesy Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI)

Sealaska Heritage Institute will make the images available to researchers and may eventually put them on exhibit.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a Native nonprofit established in 1981 to administer educational and cultural programs for Sealaska, a regional Native corporation formed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The institute's mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures. Language revitalization is a priority of Sealaska Heritage Institute.

To donate similar materials of historical or cultural value, contact the Sealaska Heritage Institute's archivist.


Photo Gallery:

Linn A. Forrest, Sr., Collection


Source of News & Photographs:

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI)


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Ketchikan, Alaska