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Alaska

Ketchikan’s Collection of Totem Poles

With well over 80 totem poles, Ketchikan is one of the best places in the world to see some of the most famous works of traditional Native American art. Totem pole carving has a long tradition in the area going back several centuries. In fact, it is about impossible to travel to Ketchikan and not see a totem pole as there is one about every couple of blocks. Luckily, Continuing Education Company hosts an Alaskan continuing medical education cruise so you have the chance to see these amazing works of art when you register for their medical conference.

One of the most famous is the eagle totem pole located near the town’s cruise ship docks and was carved by local and world-renowned Native artist Nathan Jackson. The pole is one of the first sights to greet guests when they enter the town. Many of the most famous contemporary totem poles from around the world are also carved by Jackson and guests can often see him working on new poles in his workshop during the summer months. Another one of the most famous poles in the area is known as the Chief Johnson totem pole and stands at an incredible 55 feet high. The pole is located at the center of town and is carved from a single piece of red cedar. The pole is a visual representation of the legend of the creation of salmon and is considered by many to be one of the single best works of Native American art in the world. These poles along with many others located all around the town can be seen by visitors who take the walking tour.

One of the best places for visitors to view totem poles and learn about local tribes and art is by visiting Totem Bight Historical Park. The site’s location was once a thriving Native village full of unique poles but was abandoned after many indigenous people had to leave the area in search of work. By the mid twentieth century, many of the poles became overgrown or rotted away but an effort was made by the local tribe and the United States government to restore the poles and replicate the ones that had been lost. These conservation efforts taught a new generation of Native artists how to carve and care for the poles and that tradition lives on in Ketchikan today. The site also features a reproduction of a traditional clan house which could house between 30 and 50 people. The clan house is decorated with many bright illustrations of animals representing the different families of people who once occupied the area. Besides the stunning examples of local Native art, the site is also located in a temperate rainforest and guests can enjoy the local beauty and wildlife of the area.

Another famous site is Saxman Totem Park, which contains 25 poles. Much like Totem Bight, the poles are a mixture between original and replicated works of art. Many guests come to see the wide assortment of poles which range from displays of family wealth and power to local myths and legends. With such a unique range of poles available for visitors to look at learn about, there is bound to be at least one that speaks to every guest. Saxman Totem Park is home to the largest collection of free standing totem poles in the world, so it is well worth a visit for anyone traveling to Alaska.


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