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Set of Three Coastal Salish Totems


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Three coastal Salish carved totems from Southern Vancouver Island. Estimate circa 1900-20's. Includes a pair of structural house totems with notched tops for holding a beam. Each 10'4"H and a matching totem with eagle over a whale 9'11"H. Totems are just as they were collected still with lichens attached - could be brightened. Sold as a set. Description: Support Totem for Long House. There are 4 separate regions related to Northwest Coastal Art/Carving styles and techniques. Northern Style: The pre-dominant tribes in this area are Tlingit, Haida and Coast Tsimshian. Mid-Coast Style: The pre-dominant tribe is the Kwakwaka’wakw. West Coast Style: The pre-dominant tribes are the Nuu-chah-nulth and Maka on the Olympic Peninsula. South Coast style: Comprised of the Coast Salish and many of the tribes in the Seattle and Portland area. Each of these styles have similar design elements. However, there are various strong and subtle differences that can help to identify them. The two northern styles, North Coast and Mid-Coast, tend to have more angular and dramatic features. The West Coast and South Coast styles tend to have softer features, and less dramatic angles and lines. When a long house was constructed, often the central support logs that held the main roof beam were carved. This appears to be that kind of pole. Notice the large notch cut into the top of the pole. The pole is shaped with an ‘adze’ and refined with hand tools. This is an old pole that has been exposed to a lot of use. The design is simple and contains only two figures, ‘Sisiyutl’ – a fierce two headed serpent, and ‘Thunderbird’ – a very powerful deity in native mythology. Sisiyutl: Is a powerful, double headed, sea serpent that guards the house of the Sky People. This being represents duality and contradiction. It is a death dealer and spirit helper, which makes warriors powerful and fierce. This pole could have been in a long house for men, and bachelors who were part of a warrior society. Sisiyutl was called upon to make the warriors invulnerable. This being contains powerful medicine. If one was ever caught, they could not be touched directly, and had to be kept in a container of water, so that their potent medicine could be preserved and used. Above Sisiyutl, and clutching the serpent, is Thunderbird. Thunderbird is probably the most powerful of the Mythological Beings, short of the Creator. He lives high on a mountain peak, and is a proud and noble being. He creates the thunder and lightning, and can be fierce or nurturing. When Thunderbird feels compassionate, he brings the soft healing rains to make plants grow and sustain the earth. When he is angry, he brings the great storms of thunder and lightning, destroying anything in its path. He carries the Lightning Snakes under his wings, to kill the mighty Killer Whale. Thunderbird is depicted by a large hooked beak and large curled ears. On this pole, the lower jaw is missing, but the ears are clearly those of Thunderbird. The wings are powerfully outstretched. This pole could be a very early Northern Style, based on the shape of the ears and the wing design. Description: Support Pole for Long House with two figures. This is another Long House support pole. It is very possible that it came from the same dwelling as pole number 6, because it has similar adze markings, color and size. There is very little physical detail remaining on the two figures on this pole. The figures appear to be males, possibly prominent individuals within the tribe or society that the Long House belonged to. The top figure is seated and significantly larger than the lower figure. The hands are shown in a holding position, and there is a large collar over the shoulders. I suspect that this is an individual of rank. There is another possibility why the figures lack detail. The pole may have been carved quickly, and there was not enough time to finish working on it before it was needed and installed, so the house could be completed. There is also the possibility that something happened to the individual who was carving the poles, and it was decided to use the poles anyway, to honor them. This pole has been exposed to smoke for a considerable time, which would indicate that it was, in fact, installed in a Long House and served as one of the support poles for the central beam. The notch on this pole and pole number 6 are of similar size, and the pole heights are also very close. I have a strong suspicion that they are, in fact, a set. From the little detail evident on both poles, I suspect that they were carved by the same individuals, and that these were Northern style designs, which would indicate they came from the Alaska region.

PERIOD: Early 20th Century

ORIGIN: Plateau - Salish, Native American

SIZE: 10' 4"H and 9' 11"H

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