New Totem Pole Finds Home in Chicago Field Museum
by admin ~ April 6th, 2007
A new totem pole at the Chicago Field Museum draws on historical connections both near and far. The work is a collaboration of master Chilkoot-Tlingit carver Nathan Jackson and family, and is presented to the Field Museum as a gift of the Cape Fox Corporation and the Tlingit community of Saxman, Alaska. In 2001, the Museum returned a 26-foot totem pole that was removed from the Cape Fox village of Gaash by the Harriman scientific expedition in 1899.
Nathan Jackson has worked on three other repatriation projects in the U.S., all for poles taken from what was thought to be an abandoned village during an Alaskan expedition at the turn of the 20th Century by railroad tycoon Edward Henry Harriman. The totem poles, acquired in Cape Fox, Alaska, have been returned to the local community. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, Harvard’s Peabody Museum and the Burke Museum in Seattle house replacements carved by Jackson (1).
Harriman traveled to Alaska on a two month voyage to survey the Coast with friends and family. Among the expedition members were notable artists and naturalists John Muir, George Bird Grinnell, and Edward S. Curtis. Harriman described his Alaska expedition “as a summer cruise for the pleasure and recreation of my family and a few friends” (2). The University of Washington maintains a digital collection of the expedition, including an historic photo taken by Edward Curtis at the village site on Cape Fox.
The new work by Nathan Jackson took several months to complete at the family’s workshop in Ketchikan, Alaska. Part of it was designed on a computer, and is made of red cedar and contains an abstract “swooshing” element made of silicon designed by Stephen Jackson, the carver’s son and sculptor in New York. According to Janet Hong, project manager for exhibitions at the Field, “It’s clearly a melding of traditional carving styles and new media. There’s not [sic] specific iconography, and a lot of it is abstracted. It is unique (3).” It was a unique commission from the start, and the artists were given a wide latitude to collaborate on a monumental project that would blend traditional and modern elements. With the historic pole now completing its journey back to Alaska and its Tlingit home, its contemporary replacement will be on display at the Museum’s Stanley Field Hall.