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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Alaska: Totem Poles‏

September 8th, 2009 · 8 Comments

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The most famous native art of Alaska — which also has always interested me the most — is the carving of totem poles. Before I left Alaska yesterday I was able to see four wonderful totem poles.

One of the most interesting totem poles is in the sanctuary of my best friend’s church. John is the senior pastor of St. John’s United Methodist Church in Anchorage. On my visit to Alaska I had the opportunity to see him leading worship services for the first time.

Pastor John and His Congregation This Sunday

Pastor John and His Congregation This Sunday

On of the most interesting totem poles is at the right side of this photo. Carved from a 500-year-old cedar log by David Fison, one of John’s predecessors, this 17-foot “Easter Totem Pole” honors the people of the Tsimshian village of Metlakatla where he had served as interim pastor in 1965.

Most early Christian missionaries to the Indians of the Northwest Coast believed that totem poles were pagan idols that their converts must destroy. But the people never worshipped them. They used them to preserve their stories, providing an outline so the people could tell their stories for generations.

If the missionaries had understood that, they could have encouraged the translation of Bible stories in the totem poles. This is what David Fison does with his carvings.

Close Up of the Easter Totem Pole

Close Up of the Easter Totem Pole

David and Aleen Fison invited John and me to their home in Anchorage on Sunday night. There we were able to see his other totem pole, the “Christmas Totem Pole.”

David Fison and the Christmas Totem Pole That He Carved

David Fison and the Christmas Totem Pole That He Carved

Pastor David was initially concerned that the Tsimshian people might not accept a totem pole carved by a non-native. But they gave their blessing and even adopted him into the Tsimshian tribe. He is now a member of the Killer Whale Clan with the name Nadaam Nlomsk. His name means “carver of sacred things.”

After Pastor David told us the story of his carvings, he presented me with a replica of the “Easter Totem Pole” on a gold chain. It looks a lot like a cross.

Earlier John and I visited the Alaska Native Heritage Center north of Anchorage. Here is the totem pool at the center.

A Modern Totem Pole at the Alaska Native Heritage Center

A Modern Totem Pole at the Alaska Native Heritage Center

Then I visited the Anchorage Museum, where they have one of the oldest remaining totem poles.

This Tlingit Indian Totem Pole Dates Back to the 19th Century

This Tlingit Indian Totem Pole Dates Back to the 19th Century

I was so fortunate to see these four great totem poles during the two weeks that I visited John and Alaska. I stayed longer than I thought that I would, because John made it possible for me to experience so much.

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Posted in: Alaska, Photography

8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Charlie Bass // Dec 1, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    Saw the Easter totem myself when in Anchorage. Is it possible to order a replica?

    Thanks and God bless you,

    Charlie Bass

  • 2 David Mendosa // Dec 1, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    Dear Charlie,

    I don’t know. But I will ask the pastor of the United Methodist Church in Anchorage. He’s my best friend, so I know that he will write me back!

    Best regards,

    David

  • 3 David Mendosa // Dec 2, 2009 at 8:04 am

    Dear Charlie,

    My best friend is on vacation in California right now, and just answered my message, “Yes, It is possible to get a replica in several sizes. All are made by David [Fison, his predecessor] himself. When I get to Alaska I will send you the sizes available. He also did the Christmas Totem which is also available. They are lovely.”

    I will follow up when I hear more.

    Best regards,

    David

  • 4 David Mendosa // Mar 30, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    Dear Charlie,

    Several months ago you asked about how to get replicas of the totem in St. John’s United Methodist Church in Anchorage. I just heard from the pastor there, John Dodson, who happens to be my best friend.

    John says that he can get either the Easter or the Christmas totem in either the tall (about 2 1/2′) form or the short (18″) form at $60 and $25 respectively. That is at cost and John told me that he would pay the shipping charges himself.

    Please let me know if you still want one and if so which one so I can put you and John in touch.

    Best regards,

    David

  • 5 Betty Bartlett // Aug 14, 2010 at 9:30 pm

    I would also like a replica of the Easter and Christmas totem. Would you please pass along my information to your friend.
    Thanks,
    Betty

  • 6 Eddie White // Dec 17, 2010 at 10:47 pm

    I’m interested in buying 2 of the 18in Christmas totems featured here.

    I would like to donate one to my local church.

    Could you send the appropriate information asap so I can place my order for Christmas?

  • 7 David Mendosa // Dec 18, 2010 at 8:28 am

    Dear Eddie,
    Wonderful!
    You can request them directly from David Fison at: totem@alaska.net. Each one is a work of art and you will have a copy of the only Christian Totems in the world.
    They come in 12 inch, 18 inch, 30 inch replicas.
    The Easter Totem is in the St. John United Methodist Church in Anchorage, and a full size replica of the Christmas Totem has just been erected outside at St. John. The original Christmas Totem is still at David Fison’s house. A full description comes with each totem.
    Best regards,
    David

  • 8 Roger W Thompson (Bill) // Jun 22, 2012 at 7:59 pm

    Very nice, David….my mom and dad would have really liked a replica for their Alaskan collections….you may recall my parents, Roger and Mary from 1961-1967, First U Methodist pastor.They have since passed on.

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