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Totems and Totem Poles

What tools were used to carve totem poles?


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June 16, 2012 8:33AM

This was under "Cherokee"---the Cherokee didn't do totem poles! That is STRICTLY a Northwest Coastal thing, more Canada/Alaska than PNW US, but, they eventually developed totem carving skills. In the old days, bone tools were used, until the introduction of metal tools, such as adzes, chisels, draw-knives etc. Today, a lot of carving is done with draw-knives, adzes, chisels, and some with just a very, very sharp pocket knife. In the Washington State, British Columbia area, one family is very well-known for carving skills, the Williams family. Eight generations have spent their lives on the Seattle waterfront, primarily, carving totems and other items using nothing but a pocket knife. On Aug. 30, 2010, one of the family members, John T. Williams, was gunned down in cold blood by Seattle police officer Ian Birk, who was never charged. Despite being homeless and an alcoholic, John did very detailed carvings that were sought by many, and can still be seen in the Smithsonian, various museums, and Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe on the Seattle waterfront along with carvings from other members of the family. A memorial totem pole was carved for him and now stand in the Seattle Center. His brother, Rick Williams, oversaw the project, with his brothers, cousins, children, all participating, and allowing thousands of people from around the world to not only witness the work, but assist. Using chisels, draw-knives, but mostly regular pocket knives. The master carvers patiently assisted even the smallest child in using the super-sharp tools so that they, too, got to carve on the totem pole.