More Shakes Island photos and updates on Facebook

Friday, August 17, 2012

Sealaska comes through with more logs, this time for totems

Bear Up the Mountain

Wrangell Cooperative Association recently had their request of three giant, red, Cedar logs to replicate three totems approved by Sealaska.  

This means that the Undersea Bear, Strong Man, and Bear Up the Mountain totem poles, the three totems in the worst shape on the island, have taken their first step to being re-carved and re-seated in their rightful home on Chief Shakes Island.

In an October, 2011, Master Carver Steve Brown assessed the damages and concluded that complete replication will be required for the Undersea Bear (23’), Strong Man (28’) and the mountain half only of Bear Up the Mountain (17’).  The other totems will be cleaned and/or repaired, it's just that these three each had a foot in the grave.

The Bear Up the Mountain totem has been taken down and sits in two parts behind the Tribal House.  It stayed there over the winter, tarped and on the ground.  The bear part can be rescued with a little paint and elbow grease, but the 17’ mountain is a goner. The Strong Man and Undersea Bear are in dire need of complete re-carve and are currently being stored by the City of Wrangell.

Bear Up Mt
1940, Linn A Forrest Collection
This isn't the first time Sealaska has come up big in the restoration, as they already donated a dozern Cedars.  Those giant trees were logged by Sealaska Timber Corp, planked on Prince of Whales Island and shipped to Wrangell, where they were blessed by the local Native community and adzed in the temporary Carving Shed.  The finished product went to replace the largest pieces of the Tribal house, like the corner posts and sill beams.

“It feels great to know the restoration is going smoothly and we’re on our way to getting the totems back into the ground,” said WCA Pres. Ernie Christian. 

“It's phenomenal to see the Tribal House coming along as fast as it is and the adzed wood just looks beautiful,” added Christian.  "It's almost like it was machined.  I am very impressed with our adzers."

Project Manager Todd White is aiming to have most of the Tribal House finishing work wrapped up by the first of the year, giving him a nice window to get the artwork from the museum back into the house, then the WCA can focus on raising the totems again.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Tribal House 65% complete

Tuesday and Wednesday brought clear skies to Wrangell and a couple coats of stain to the North and South walls of the Chief Shakes Tribal House.  Walls have been up for some time, the roof is halfway done and the adzers are doing everything they can to keep the Cedar flowing to the island.  Project Manager Todd White took a few minutes away to walk me around the house and give me an update on the progress.
Photo by Greg Knight

"If I had to put a number on the total project, I'd say we're about 65% done," said White. "We expected to salvage about 30% of the existing Tribal House, but that number turned out to be 7%, creating some extra work.  But even with those additions, we're still on-time and will have everything ready for the 2013 re-dedication."  

The East half of the roof is nearly complete. The old roof, put together in 1939, consisted of Cedar planks and shakes ... that's it. The new and improved Tribal House roof will still have the Cedar planks and shakes, but White's throwing in some 3/4" plywood and a layer of Water Shield rubber membrane. Paired the new roof with the new foundation, this baby should be water tight.

"It's just awesome to see it all coming together," continued White.  "The project has been the most challenging I've ever taken on, but also the most rewarding.  It's great to come to work and see everyone on the job really enjoying and caring about what we’re trying to do here, not just picking up a paycheck."

"I feel like once the roof is done, we own it. We're home with nothing but finishing work ahead of us.  I'd like to see the finishing work wrapped up by the first of the year so we get the artwork back in there and start working towards raising the totems again."

The crew on the island is taking a few days off from the roof to tackle some other projects on the island, like staining, but they're also doing it to let the adzers gain a little ground.

"We've been really busy, but doing our best to keep up with whatever the crew asks for," said adzer Susie Kasinger, standing in a sea of Cedar chips inside a carving facility not built for warm weather.  

"It took us a week to finish the planks for one half of the roof.  It's a little overwhelming to see them looking for more Cedar after just four hours.  That's how fast they're putting it back together. I just try to keep checking the island, checking the progress. It helps us carvers stay pumped up."

For more renovation photos, check out our Facebook page.