WCA Covers Shakes Island Totem Poles for Winter
October 12, 2011
(SitNews) Wrangell, Alaska – Over the last days of September and early October, master carver Wayne Price and members of his adzing team worked through and around hard rain, gale force winds, and ankle deep mud on the behalf of the Wrangell Cooperative Association (WCA) to position and then cover all of the downed totem poles on Shakes Island. The totem were taken down for refurbishing earlier in the month and placed on the lawn behind the Chief Shakes tribal house.
The activities began with hauling heavy timbers across the bridge by wheeled dolly and then hand carrying the timbers to a staging area behind the Chief Shakes tribal house. The totems were then jacked up with a 2 ¼ ton floor jack and the timbers inserted underneath to raise the totems further up off the grass. Then the hard work began.
The large Chief Kadashan Crane totem needed to be moved about 10 feet closer to the Chief Kadashan Red Snapper totem to make it easier to cover them with the same set of tarps. The first step was to insert a large timber under both totems so that they would share the same support and could be slid closer together. All of which needed to be done by hand because it was more feasible than bringing in heavy equipment, which can only arrive by barge at high tide. So, the crew primarily used the floor jack and a lever consisting of a long 4x4 post with a small log as a fulcrum. Once the large timber was in place under both totems, they next used a logging technique, learned by Wayne Price in 1978 when he worked setting chokers, to move the Crane totem. They moved the lever and fulcrum to the end of the Crane totem and used it to “walk” the Crane totem closer to the Red Snapper totem. Eventually, the team inserted the wheeled dolly under the Crane totem and pushed the totem by hand the remaining 4 feet.
The next day, the team moved the Undersea Bear totem over beside the Eagle, a distance of about 35 feet. Then, the team began the work of scrubbing the moss and lichen off the underside of the totems now that they were up high enough to reach under. Or, as in the case of adzer Linda Churchill, who quipped “It’s a little tight under here all right,” before sliding carefully under the Eagle totem on her back and scrubbing with a small wire brush.
Finally, volunteer adzer Josh Lesage, adzer Tammi Meissner, adzer Susie Kasinger and adzer Linda Churchill built tarp frames, covered the frames with the tarps and weighted them down. The totems can now rest for the winter and dry out a little before being repaired and painted to be put back up again next summer.
Shakes Island is located in the harbor at Wrangell, Alaska and contains the Chief Shakes Historic Site, a National Register site that receives over 10,000+ visitors a year. The island stands as one of the few lasting reminders of Southeast Alaska Natives and their unique totemic art. The site’s main feature is a replica of a 19th century Tlingit tribal house which is set on the authentic location historically occupied by Chief Shake’s lineage. Not only is the site important to the national chronology of Native-white contact, it is still used today for Tlingit ceremonies and contains the prized clan artwor k- at.óow -of the Stikine Tlingits. Shakes Island is owned and operated by the WCA.
The Shakes Island tribal house was completed in 1940 built by collaboration between the CCC, the Forest Service and the local Tlingit tribe. Except for minor repairs, no major reconstruction has taken place to the structure. Because the tribal house is listed on the National Historic register, the replacement timbers must be hand adzed. Master carvers from other communities are overseeing and training locals to complete the adzing. The old structure needs to be dismantled and then a new structure erected in its place with the hand-adzed timbers, new electrical and a new roof of split cedar shakes. The totem poles on the island also need to be refurbished. When the project is complete, a celebration of project completion will be held.
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