TOTEM POLE SPOONS
Totem poles were raised by various tribes of indians in the
evergreen rain forests of the Pacific Northwest, Canada and
Alaska to honor important individuals.
These hunter - gatherer tribes were composed of seven distinct tribes
with a number of different dialects who tried to live in harmony with
the many natural animals and forces which they encountered in an
interconnectedness way of all life.
Wealth and prestige were associated with family linkage and
intermarriage often occured to cement familial bonds.
Totem poles were raised to celebrate important births, marriages,
deaths, property transferences, new house, new chief etc.
These totem poles were elaborately carved from huge trees and were
Spoon manufacturers were quick to pick up on the things that tourists
were likely to see, and we find a number of different totem poles
depicted on spoons.
In some cases the spoons fairly accurately portrayed certain totem
poles and in other cases they simply depicted generic images of totem
poles or parts of totem poles.
On my recent visit to the Tongass Historical Museum in Ketchikan,
Alaska, the Senior curator, Richard H. Van Cleave helped me identify
some of these spoons and inspired me to redo this entire exhibit.
As usual we find many different shapes and styles of spoons. Some of
these spoons were manufactured by established silver companies and in
some cases they were handmade by local silversmiths.
All the silver company spoons are sterling. The hand made spoons were
usually made from silver quarters, half dollars or silver dollars and
are most likely 900 silver.
In some cases, the spoons were sold in distant places and were then
customized for that particular area..
The four spoons on the left show the Chief Kyan Totem pole in
Ketchikan. Notice that they are different sizes which means that
different tool and dies were made
left: 1. customized with a city scene and labeled Seattle.
2. customized with a building and mountain scene and labeled "Olympia
Range from Seattle"
3. no bowl scene, back is labeled Ketchikan Alaska
4. customized showing the parliament building in Victoria, BC (a truly
impressive looking building)
In the first picture there is also a demi sized spoon showing this
totem pole and it is customized for Boulder Dam (to my knowledge there
were no totem poles in that area)
The two demi spoons on the right both show the same totem pole (not
1. the first is customized showing a city scene for Ketchikan, Alaska
2. customized showing a mountain scene and labeled as Mt. Skagway,
left: 1. Cast spoon (probably modern) and labeled as "Thunderbird
totem, Alaska sterling by Houston"
There are several thunderbird totems but I suspect that this one is
depicting the Kwakuitl style pole raised at the Campbell River Reserve,
Thuderbird Hall as a memorial to
Chief Bill Roberts and carved by Bill Henderson
2. customized for Vancouver (BC)
3. partial enameling on stem no customization in bowl, back
marked "Alaska Totem Pole"
4. partial enameling on stem in different colors -- back marked
"Alaska Totem Pole"
interesting shaped bowl and customized for Prince
Rupert (BC) (unidentified pole but may be from the Totem Bight
State Park in Ketchikan)
hand made with an unidentifed mark
unidentifed pole on hand made spoon by a local
artisan - not marked but probably 900 silver
unidentified totem pole -hand made spoon marked
"Alaska". It is signed on the back in ink but difficult to read
interesting hand made spoon with unusual bowl
showing an engraved salmon , The back is engraved "Sitka 189"
I suspect that the last digit of the year was left off and was supposed
to be engraved at the point of sale
unidentified pole. spoon marked 'sterling' with no
The handle shows the same totem pole on both the front and back
conventionally produced art deco style spoon with
hand cut outs around the top figure. Unidentified mark
hand made spoon by a local artisan --no identifying
marks. I suspect it is 900 silver
Hand sawn totem pole spoon and labeled Seattle
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