Earlier this month, we were very pleased to welcome the artist Calvin Hunt, his wife Marie, and several members of his tribe known as Copper Maker Dancers to Alnoba to bless a Totem Pole shortly after it was raised as the newest piece in the Alnoba Art Park collection. Calvin Hunt works within the traditional Northwest Coast Kwagu’l style of totem pole making. His work reflects the diversity, spirituality, transformation and meaning of the Kwakwaka’wakw culture.

The subject of our first totem pole, installed in 2008, includes a Raven, Killer Whale, Seal, Grizzly Bear and Salmon. Intermingled with design elements and colors, the carved totem pole represents the unifying symbolism of various animals and legends, which Hunt has learned from the teachings of his Chiefs, Elders and other artists. Spiritualism, the supernatural and the importance of the environment play integral roles in day-to-day life of the Kwakwaka’wakw people.

The Copper Maker Dancers, are a Kwagu’ł dance group of professional Kwakwakwa’wakw people of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Kwakwakwa’wakw dances are valuable inherited privileges, depicting hereditary legends. In some cases, the dance dramatizes the adventure stories of the ancestor; while in others the dance recreates a dance given to the ancestor by a mythical being or by a dream being with whom the ancestor came in contact. Dances and the accompanying songs, masks or regalia are regarded as valuable family privileges to be passed on in the family from generation to generation.

150 people attended this special event in the open field. After their first dance and chant, the crowd all remained in silent, respectful awe. Then a tribe member simply said, “clapping allowed” and everyone broke into a loud, lingering show of gratitude for the performance and then when invited, the whole audience joined in the dance! Alnoba was alive that afternoon!

The totem pole is “read” from top to bottom or bottom to top, with each figure carrying its own importance. Through symbolic crests and figures, the pole tells the story of the Kwakwaka’wakw ancestors. The eagle at the very top, sacred and believed to have healing powers, represents the highest ranking clan. The killer whale also has special significance as a facilitator of travel and adventure

Starting from the bottom, the Totem Pole is carved with a Sisiutl or Double-Headed Serpent. The Sisiutl is a legendary creature with fish qualities, sometimes with an additional central face of a supernatural being. The Sisiutl is closely associated with shamans because both are seen as mediators between the natural and supernatural worlds.

The next animal is a Hawk painted with a copper color. The copper, or Tlakwa represents the standing, rank and history of the chief.

Above the Hawk is the Hok Hok (or Huk-Huk), a supernatural cannibal bird. This long beaked bird monster is part of the great household in the sky. Its long beak protrudes out of the totem pole at the center point of the pole.

Above the Hok Hok is the Orca or Killer Whale with its dorsal fin above the Hok Hok’s beak. The Orca symbolizes family, longevity, harmony, travel, community and protection. The Orca is said to protect those who travel away from home and lead them back when the time comes

The top of the totem pole is carved with an Eagle, or “The master of the Skies” and is a symbol of great significance. The Eagle is believed to be the creature with the closest relationship with the creator. By soaring great heights, he can travel between the physical world and the spiritual world. He is also said to be a messenger to the creator, sending messages and prayers.

Calvin’s tribe originated in West coast of British Columbia tribe and believe they are truly blessed to have their culture preserved. This totem is carved from western red cedar and utilizes symbols and animals that are all directly part of his heritage as learned from the teachings of his Chiefs, Elders and other artists. The carvings symbolize power and protection, as well as a call for balance in one’s life.

You can see both totems and many other beautiful pieces of sculpture by planning a visit to the Alnoba Art Park.

Submitted by: Hadley Powell, Art Collection Manager, Alnoba, Kensington, New Hampshire