Totem carving 2


Here is a view of the Blyn carving shed of the S’Klallam Tribe. In addition to the huge, hefty cedar logs used for totems, the carvers also render in foam. Two such pieces are on the wall to the left. This allows them to create lightweight pieces was wall hangings. In the center above are two cast totems that have been designed for the Tribe to sell as commercial products.

The cast totems tell the story of the “Bear of Heaven,” from Nuxalk mythology where the House of Myths is the dwelling pace of supernatural beings that influence the natural phenomena of the world in which we live. The “Bear of Heaven,” Nusme’ta acts as a guardian of the Path of the Sun. The sun travels on a bridge; where he walks on the bridge explains the varying height of the sun during the year. One of Nusme’ta’s duties is to assure that the sun does not tarry too long at the Solstice. The Bear of Heaven totems will sell for $250 unpainted. The cost for a painted totem had not been calculated when I visited.

This is Dale Faulstich, the artist who has designed and carved the S’Klallam totems I’ve shown you over the past week. Dale has worked for the Tribe for over 20 years and has translated its history and cultural heritage into the poles that now grace Tribe’s properties. The carving shed where Dale and the other carvers work is open Mondays through Fridays and Dale was very gracious in telling us about the totems and how they are made. I’m sorry to admit that I did not get the names of the other carvers I have pictured.

Click here for more information about the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe and here for a link through the Jamestown gift shop or here for a link through Amazon for information about “Totem Poles of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe” which describes the poles and their tales more fully.

I’ve enjoyed sharing these photos and what I’ve learned about the local totem poles and hope it has interested you, too. I have not shown you all of them yet and plan to bring more pictures of them to the Sequim Daily Photo in coming months. Stay tuned!

Totem carving


The totem poles erected by the S’Klallam Tribe are creations that celebrate a contemporary culture. In addition to their tribal operations, the S’Klallam operate a casino, a convenience store, deli, gas station, art gallery, construction and excavating companies, and they recently opened a community health center. Above is a carving shed where their totem poles are created.

Below is a workbench with tools in current use. More tools are stored elsewhere in the shop.  The carvers at the top of this page are transferring the design onto the wood with a compass. They use tools that most contemporary carvers would recognize: adzes, chisels, gouges, and carving knives, even a laser level — the little yellow instrument above marked “PLS.”

The pole that’s being worked on here is similar to a traditional mortuary pole. It will contain the ashes of the wife of a man who has independently commissioned it. A typical full sized totem pole is carved from a Western Red Cedar tree that is generally 500-900 years old. Trees were once harvested from the western rainforests of Clallam County; carvers for the S’Klallam now go afield to British Columbia and Alaska — or anywhere they can get trees of the right size.  The totem workshop is fragrant with the smell of cedar and the rings of the pole being worked on were so tight that counting them would be a bit like measuring sand on a beach. 

The Tribal Council must approve all totem pole designs. The drawing at left shows the design, I believe, of the pole that is being created — I did not confirm that with the carvers.

Depending on the size and complexity of the design, a typical totem pole can take from four to six months to complete.

Below is the top of the new totem. You can see its form taking shape as well as features that will be carved from the wood. Beyond the new carving are two completed totems that are destined for the Blyn Fire Station that the tribe has built. It is adjacent to their gas station and convenience store.  The totems will be erected after the excavation and foundations have been completed for their placement.

The poles can weigh 2,000 pounds. They are placed today with the aid of a crane hoist and supported by steel. A traditional pole would have been raised using a tripod of long poles. I hope to attend the dedication ceremony of the Blyn Firehouse poles. If I do, I’ll take pictures and post information about that.

Tomorrow: Meet Dale Faulstich, artist and carver for the S’Klallam Tribe, and see more of the carving shop.

Totem poles 6


There is a dance plaza at the S’Klallam Tribal Center where these two totem poles stand. They overlook Sequim Bay and are called the “Strong People House Posts.”  The S’Klallam people are known as “the Strong People” and this is an adaptation of the story the poles tell:

Faced with the task of lifting a particularly heavy house post the tribes of the area once gathered. One by one, groups from each tribe tried to heft the huge log and, one by one, they failed.

The S’Klallam people considered the problem. They rolled the long pole into the water of Sequim Bay. As the log began to float, their strongest men stooped in the water to put their shoulders underneath. Then they stood, and by their combined strength they lifted the pole from the water and carried it to its place. From that day, the S’Klallam have been known as “the Strong People.”

This is the back of the Dance Plaza poles. These poles commemorate the 1874 tribal actions in acquiring the Jamestown lands that I told you about yesterday.

Most of the information I have posted about all of the S’Klallam totem poles has been taken from a beautiful and interesting book entitled “Totem Poles of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe: The Art of Dale Faulstich” (available — where else? — on and also at some local Sequim outlets).  It contains many stories told by Tribal Elder and storyteller Elaine Grinnell and far more detail than I can share in my posts.

Tomorrow I’ll take you into the carving shed of the Tribe and show you a carving project.

Totem poles 4

Just for contrast, here is a sampling of historic totems and how they may be presented today. These are totems featured in Thunderbird Park at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, British Columbia, across the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Sequim. This is a photo from 2010, taken on the fly and shown just as comparison. I don’t have information about the totems except that they represent First Nations communities across British Columbia.

The Royal BC Museum also has totem poles inside, in its First Peoples Galleries. It is a wonderful museum, well worth a day trip from the Olympic Peninsula.

Tomorrow: A different kind of carving at the S’Klallam Tribal Center.

Totem poles 3

Back again at the 7 Cedars Casino, the first totem, above, is in a style from the Kwakwaka’wakw people of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. It is a representation of the supernatural world and shows each major realm of nature: the Forest World, the Sky World, and the Undersea World.

The forms on the totem pole above represent natural phenomena in human-like shapes. They are carved in the Tlingit style of northern British Columbia. The bottom figure on this pole is Fog Woman who can both help and harm coastal peoples. Fog Woman can conceal people from enemies or hide hunters as they approach prey. Her nasty side can disorient people and cause them to get lost, sometimes permanently.

Although totem poles can be viewed in some museum and preserved settings, those created for the S’Klallam Tribe are contemporary. They have been created in the past 20 years by living artists using traditional styles, forms, and legends. The S’Klallam peoples are a current, living culture.

Tomorrow: A look at carvings at the S’Klallam Tribal Center.

Totem poles 2

Here is another look at the S’Klallam Tribe’s 7 Cedars Casino totem poles in Blyn. This totem honors a storied leader of the S’Klallam Tribe, Lord James Balch. In 1855 a treaty rejected by many S’Klallam took their lands and moved Tribe members to a reservation 100 miles away, crowding them on unfamiliar land with tribes that had other languages and cultures. Understanding that purchasing lands would assure permanency Lord James Balch led his villagers to raise $500 and in 1874 purchased 210 acres in an area named Jamestown in his honor. With secure lands the Tribe went on to raise the first schoolhouse in Clallam County in 1878. This totem is carved in the Coast Salish style.

Tomorrow: The supernatural world and elements from nature.

Totem poles

Totem poles are part of the First Nations heritage in the Pacific Northwest. The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, centered in Blyn, just east of Sequim, commissioned a master carver, Dale Faulstich and a carver/painter, Nathan Gilles, and many volunteer carvers to produce totems that grace their tribal operations.

The poles tell stories: of history, of religious, traditional, and cultural folklore. The figures carved into totems can represent people, animals, spirits, and events. Though nature is often representated in totem art, the pole immediately below on the right is a representation of elements the tribe calls into play for the success of the 7 Cedars Casino where it is located. It includes a financier portrayed, not accidentally, as a bird of prey. And at its top government oversight is represented in the form of a mouse, described as “the little rodent that eats at every man’s table.”  

The Casino has a striking array of totem poles that primarily represent the art of the Coast Salish Tribes. But there are also four that show the carving style of regional tribes of north of here, in British Columbia. The pole at left is carved and painted in the Haida style and the one at the right is carved in the Nuxalt style.

Here are details of some of the poles.

The tribe is succeeding in its casino venture. In recent voting conducted by the local Peninsula Daily News the 7 Cedars Casino won “Best of Olympic Peninsula” in the “Best Buffet” and “Best Dancing” categories.

I’ll post examples of other S’Klallam totem art in the coming days, including photos of the workshop where carving is done.