SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Preserving the Past, Carving the Future
By Bill Hupe & Susan Batho


October 09, 2006

Klawock, Prince of Wales - In the shadow of an ancient forest, next to State Highway 921, a modest carvers' shed shelters three totem poles in progress. Outside it, poles lay, still colourful, but cracking, weathering, waiting their turn to be the next to be recarved, so that their story can continue.

Carver Jon Rowan Jr., a 43 year old teacher, comes each day after school to continue the task, five days a week. During summer he employs apprentices, teaching the skills he has learned himself, passing on his knowledge about the woods and their nature, seeing those apprentices develop into skilled and master carvers themselves, reaching their own potentials.

jpg Carver Joh Rowan Jr.

Carver Jon Rowan Jr. continues on his self-imposed task to preserve the past.
Photograph by Bill Hupe & Susan Batho ©2006

But once summer is over, Carver Jon Rowan Jr. continues on his self-imposed task to preserve the past and to produce new poles requested by families. Each pole is hand carved using a variety of implements: his prize possession, the old black stone hammer for use with his chisels found by his sister, now put back to use after years of being buried in the forest. A Portuguese ship builders adze, chisels, axe and knives are safely stored in the beautiful hand-made wooden tool chest when they are not in use. Woodchips litter the floor. The aroma of fresh carved wood permeates the air. It feels like a comfortable workplace despite the rain and mist outside. And Rowan is working upwards of 350 hours on each pole.

jpg Carvers' shed Klawock, Alaska

Modest carvers' shed shelters with totem poles in progress.
Photograph by Bill Hupe & Susan Batho ©2006

A stocky broad-shouldered man with a ready smile, Rowan explains that the his work is not new; that the poles have been recarved since the early 1920's, and that they are continuing to experiment with new mediums of weather-proof paints, and oils, although after earlier experiments have failed, carvers are moving back to more traditional methods.

In this land, where the site of a 10,000 year old settlement rests quietly beneath the forest, the families still live here, and preservation goes hand-in-hand with creativity. Stories continue through the passing on of dance, song and the carving. This is by no means a new phenomenon - this is the way it has always been, and hopefully shall continue through the enthusiasm of the young people who listen, learn and practice and pass their skills on in turn.



Freelance writers Bill Hupe & Susan Batho are residents of Ketchikan and Faulconbridge NSW, Australia. Known by most people as "The Twins", they are a writing and photographic team and specializing in photography of Alaska and Australia. Their website features some of their work, and they can be reached through

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