Artworld Fine Art is pleased to have facilitated the commission of the Unity Pole by gallery artist Kris Nahrgang for the Canadian National Exhibition,
soon to be permanently erected on the grounds of the CNE. The pole will be on display during the 2017 CNE, August 18-September 4.
Totem Pole Commissions
Artworld Fine Art Gallery is pleased to be able to offer commissions and management of small to large scale Custom Totem poles ranging in size from 6 – 35ft. Our experience covers a wide range of projects tailored to private or corporate collectors. Commissioned Totems poles can tell personal or institutional narratives with powerful visuals steeped in the traditions of the past. Beginning with the initial consultation with Artworld’s Gallery Director, Donna Child, she will work with you through every part of the commission from development of the piece from concept to installation so that your expectations are met.
For further information on Totem Pole commissions please contact Donna Child – firstname.lastname@example.org or 416-620-0500
History of Totem Poles
Since totem poles are made from wood, which decays, when they first appeared on the Pacific Northwest Coast is unclear. However, early explorers in the 1700’s noted their presence. This would indicate that the tradition was well established before western contact. Early poles were smaller and less in number than those created the 1880’s boom. During this time many monumental poles were erected.
Totem poles are carved from a single trunk and are traditionally free-standing. They are not worshipped or considered religious in any way.
Traditionally they were built to tell stories, myths & legends and to commemorate events including births, marriages, anniversaries, death, or a shameful act. And displayed the owners’ family history, ancestors, crests and myths.
The Totem Pole meanings are varied but there are 6 main types of Totem Poles, commonly commissioned by tribal leaders:
Native Legend & Story Poles – Because there was no written language, many native legends & stories were carved symbolically into Totem Poles and passed down orally from generation to generation.
Family Lineage, Heraldic, or Entrance (or house) poles – Heraldic poles display tribal and family history and proclaim the lineage and social standing of a family. A Lineage Totem Pole would allow easy identification of friend and foe. House poles were used to support large rafters both inside and outside clan houses.
Memorial Poles – These poles usually highlighted the life of an important elder or tribe member.
Ridicule or Shame Poles – Targeted high standing authority figures for their lack of leadership or others who had failed to fulfill an obligation or pay a debt. Used to record wrongs or erected to shame individuals or groups for unpaid debts, symbolic reminders of quarrels, murders, debts, and other unpleasant occurrences.
Commemorative (or potlatch) poles – Potlach poles celebrated festivals & special events and were usually the largest of all Totem Poles.
Mortuary or Grave Marker poles – Mortuary poles were built with a hollow carved in the back to hold the remains or ashes of the deceased. Grave Markers became more common as the practice of cremating decreased with the conversion to Christianity in many villages.
The figures on a traditional Totem Pole are mostly inanimate objects and are typically either animals or mythological beings that symbolize a particular Native Tribe’s history. It is impossible to ‘read a totem pole’ as the true totem pole meanings were only known to the Native Carver, the member who commissioned the pole, and those in attendance at the raising. Totem Poles, to this day, are nearly 100% hand-carved. That means that no power tools are used to carve the pole other than some large initial cuts in the beginning by a chainsaw. Every single mark on the totem pole is hand made.
The tradition of carving a totem pole remains and requires not only artistic skill, but an intimate understanding of cultural histories and forest ecology. Most totem poles are made from cedar, a rot-resistant tree that is straight-grained and easy to carve.7 Before a cedar tree is harvested for a totem pole, a ceremony of gratitude and respect in honour of the tree is performed. Several trees may be inspected before a particular tree is chosen for its beauty and character. “each tree is like a human being; it has its own personality and uniqueness.”
After a tree is felled, the wood is debarked and shaped using implements such as adzes, axes, chisels, carving knives, and chainsaws. Close attention to the grain and colouration of the wood is important in capturing the sense of life and movement in the carving. After the wood is carved, poles may be painted, or may be left unpainted.
Today totem poles have also become an artistic means of expressing personal or corporate narratives, giving owners the opportunity to visually communicate their story.