Totem Pole Carving
Norman Tait, Bringing a Log to Life
- PUBLISHED: October 2020
- SUBJECT LISTING: Native American and Indigenous Studies, Art History / Native American and Indigenous Art
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 200 Pages, 8 x 9.5 in, 132 b&w illus.
- ISBN: 9780295745329
- Publisher: University of Washington Press
In 1985, photographer and writer Vickie Jensen spent three months with Nisga’a artist Norman Tait and his crew of young carvers as they transformed a raw cedar log into a forty-two-foot totem pole for the BC Native Education Centre. Having spent years recovering the traditional knowledge that informed his carving, Tait taught his crew to make their own tools, carve, and design regalia, and together they practiced traditional stories and songs for the pole-raising ceremony.
Totem Pole Carving shares two equally rich stories: the step-by-step work of carving and the triumph of Tait teaching his crew the skills and traditions necessary to create a massive cultural artifact. Jensen captures the atmosphere of the carving shed—the conversations and problem-solving, the smell of fresh cedar chips, the adzes and chainsaws, the blistered hands, the tension-relieving humor, the ever-present awareness of tradition, and the joy of creation. Generously illustrated with 125 striking photographs, and originally published as Where the People Gather, this second edition features a new preface from Jensen and an updated, lifetime-spanning survey of Tait’s major works.
Authors & Contributors
Vickie Jensen has collaborated with Pacific Northwest Indigenous communities since the early 1970s to document and revitalize languages and assist in First Nations work toward self-determination. Norman Tait (1941–2016), considered the foremost Nisga’a carver of his generation and the first Northwest Coast carver to have a solo exhibition at Vancouver’s Museum of Anthropology, cofounded the Klee Wyck Carvers school.
A compelling introduction to the artistic techniques, training processes, and the cultural imperatives that are underlying the carving. It is, finally, a celebration of both artistic talent and cultural persistence.- Journal of the West
An important record of late-twentieth-century pole carving that will be appreciated by future historians of Northwest Coast art.- American Indian Quarterly
Totem Pole Carving reveals a work of art—in this case a Northwest Coast totem pole—not only in its finished form, but in the journey of its making. Through words and images, readers can almost smell the fragrant chips of cedar as the totem pole gradually takes shape, and as its relationship to history, family, and a living culture grows. This updated, new edition brings this important story back into print, and reminds us that Norman Tait remains unequalled in his efforts to build a deeper understanding of his ancestors’ art for current generations.- Karen Duffek, Curator, Contemporary Visual Arts + Pacific Northwest, Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia