Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Main Street's new totem pole will feature a tourist


The Sheldon Museum sign, a rotting timber and stone edifice that was sinking into a lawn adjacent to Main Street, is scheduled to be replaced by week’s end by a 20-foot totem pole with a sign panel attached to its pedestal base.

The pole, which represents the museum as well as the valley’s history, features some unusual images including the muster bell from Fort Seward and a camera-toting tourist in a canoe, wearing an Alaska T-shirt.

The pole is the creation of local carver Jim Heaton. He has carved about 15 totems, including one at the library depicting an image of a book titled “Totem Carving for Dummies.”

Other images on the museum pole include a man, woman and child, a box of knowledge, a bear, a Tlingit copper or tinaa, an eagle, a raven and a Chilkat blanket patterned after one in the museum’s collection.

The tourist represents the Chilkat Valley’s historic importance as a trade route. Tlingits included objects of significance in their carvings, Heaton said. “If they had tourists 300 years ago, you’d have seen one on a pole. Poles were notebooks, basically. If it was a significant event, it would have been recorded on a pole.”

The pole was paid for with a $15,000 grant, but is worth about $60,000, Heaton said. “There was a significant donation (of labor) on everybody’s part,” including wife Shori Heaton, and daughter Sarah Long. Carver Jeffrey Klanott apprenticed on the project.

Former resident Dave McNary was among onlookers Wednesday watching Heaton build the concrete pedestal the totem will sit on, reaching a combined height of about 26 feet.

“By the time (Heaton) gets it up on the base, it’s going to be large-looking. It’s interesting,” McNary said.

Heaton said the pedestal is intended to help preserve the pole’s base, which tend to deteriorate when they’re subject to snow and freeze-thaw cycles.

Heaton said there will be no pole-raising ceremony.

“With everyone standing around (at a pole-raising), there’s the possibility someone could get squished,” Heaton said. “Even when everything goes right, it turns out to be just a lot of people standing around, watching us tighten bolts.”

Heaton said he was hoping to have the pole in place Friday, in advance of Saturday’s Totem Trot, a fun run and museum fundraiser that makes a circuit of local totems. Started three years ago, the totem was made from a yellow cedar log from Kake.


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