Totem Pole

Part of the Totems to Turquoise exhibition.

Northwest Coast artists, such as Jim Hart (photo), are among the most honored men in their communities. Creating a totem pole requires months of careful planning and carving, as well as help from apprentice carvers.

Symbol of the Northwest Coast

Carvers of the Northwest Coast developed totem poles centuries ago to display crests—images that represent the origins and history of an extended family. Many crests also depict characters from the region's rich oral tradition. A pole may serve as a memorial to a deceased chief, a support beam for a ceremonial house, or simply a proud crest display.

Some totem poles standing today are more than ten times as tall as this one, made by Jim Hart, which depicts creatures from Haida stories: from the bottom, a killer whale who has captured a woman and is pursued by her husband, a supernatural canoe carrying many passengers, and a sitting eagle.