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Tlingit Master Carver Creates Totem for "Hall of Tribal Nations" exhibit


June 21, 2005

Ketchikan, Alaska - The U.S. Forest Service recently commissioned a Tlingit master carver to create a 12-foot totem pole to be prominently displayed at the agency's new "Hall of Tribal Nations" exhibit in the nation's capital.

jpg Tlingit master carver Israel Shotridge

Tlingit master carver Israel Shotridge as he carves on the Ketchikan Indian Community 40-foot Totem.
Courtesy photo by Sue Shotridge.

Israel Shotridge, a member of the Teikweidee Taantwaan Bear Clan of the Tongass Tribe, is creating the piece of art, which will depict the Forest Service and the history of Southeast Alaska Natives. Its theme will be the 1939 to 1953 Civilian Conservation Corps Totem Restoration Project, for which the CCC paid more than 200 Alaska Native carvers and laborers to restore and replicate totems in Southeast Alaska.

"This commissioned artwork recognizes the dynamic partnership which began with the establishment of the Totem Pole Restoration Program in 1937," said John Autrey, Tongass National Forest tribal government relations specialist.

"The foresight of the Totem Pole Restoration Program is evident today. The totems and the partnership between the Forest Service and the Native Communities of Southeast Alaska continue to stimulate an enormous international interest and growth of heritage tourism, which in turn is providing an impetus for the development of new economic opportunities."

Artist Shotridge said it is a great honor to be able to design and create a contemporary totem that will pay tribute to CCC carvers and one of the most valuable preservation projects in the history of the Forest Service and the Native culture of Southeast Alaska.

"Creating a masterpiece which will be displayed in a prominent national location is a great honor for me," said Shotridge "I hope it will be treasured and enjoyed for generations to come."

The master carver's totem pole design will include traditional and contemporary elements which honor the Native artists of the three tribal nations of Southeast Alaska: the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian who participated in the historic restoration project.

Shotridge has been replicating monumental tribal totems for more than 20 years. He has replicated more than a dozen totem poles that were restored during the CCC project. His replicated totem poles are located throughout Southeast Alaska, including Totem Bight State Park, Klawock, Saxman and downtown Ketchikan. The most significant of these totems is the 55-foot-tall Chief Johnson totem pole in Ketchikan, which Shotridge replicated in 1989.

"It's very important to me that my artworks have as much cultural significance as possible and that they are associated with a story or legend in order for the piece to 'speak' to me," explained Shotridge. "As the 'artist,' this is what I strive to accomplish. Whether the art piece uses a monumental totem pole or a smaller artifact such as a Shaman's rattle or Chief's headdress, knowing how the piece was originally made and what purpose it was used for brings much more meaning to the art form than a mere artistic masterpiece. Following tradition is very important to me.

"Sharing my cultural knowledge which was passed on to me by my mother Esther Shea and grandmother Alice Harris is a responsibility that has been passed down to me as the designated Tongass Tribe's Tribal Carver. It has been a very rewarding journey for me to be able to share my heritage and carving skills with many tribal artists over the years who have wished to grow as Native artists."

Commissioned works by Shotridge such as totem poles, relief panels, masks, canoes, bentwood boxes, and artifact replicas reside in museums, airports, public, corporate and private collections throughout the United States and Europe. A highly-skilled Native engraver, Shotridge has also created beautiful and finely detailed gold and silver pendants, bracelets and rings.

In 1992, Shotridge earned the Native Artist Fellowship Award from the Alaska State Council on the Arts. He is a close relative of Head Carver, Tlingit Charlie Brown. Brown was Shotridge's second cousin, his mother's first cousin and maternal grandmother's nephew. Shotridge was born and raised in Ketchikan and now resides on Vashon Island, Wash., where he plans to carve the majority of the totem pole in his private studio.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the corps in 1933 in response to the Great Depression. The two-fold mission of the CCC was to create jobs and revitalize the nation's natural resources. The Forest Service administered many of the public work projects for the CCC, including the totem restoration.

The special "Hall of Tribal Nations" exhibit area is part of the Forest Service's galleries and interpretive displays being brought together at its headquarters in Washington D.C. to commemorate cultural heritage and partnerships.

The Forest Service and the Southeast Alaska Native communities continue to work in partnership to provide employment through the establishment of community-based projects.

"Today, we are faced with many of the same challenges that the CCC Totem Pole Restoration Program did - the challenges of competing priorities, and funding," explained Autrey. "The process of organizing and implementing these programs continues to be complex and requires planning, funding and cooperative efforts."


On the Web:

Shotridge Studios

Source of News:

United States Forest Service

Source of Photograph:

Courtesy photo by Sue Shotridge

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