Custom Totem Poles

Gallery Co-owner Walter Stolting walks you through the steps
for ordering a custom Northwest Coast Totem Pole

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Totem Poles can be custom ordered and designed for your indoor or outdoor spaces. A totem pole often tells a story or legend through representations of symbols, including animals, mythological beings, and humans. The wood to create a pole is traditionally blessed, and a ceremony is often held when the pole is raised on-site. They are traditionally carved in red cedar, can be painted or unpainted, and vary widely in size (usually 5 - 50 feet long), design and meaning.

Totem Poles are monumental cultural objects that represent and commemorate stories, ancestry, histories, people, achievement or events. There are seven principal types of totem poles: memorial poles (erected when a house changes hands to commemorate the past owner and to identify the present one), house posts (which support the roof), portal poles (which have a hole through which a person enters the house), welcoming poles (often placed at the edge of a territory or a body of water to identify the owner), mortuary poles (grave markers), and ridicule or shaming poles (on which an important individual who had failed in some way had his likeness carved and depicted in a belittling way).

Commonly Asked Questions

Before beginning the process of ordering a custom Totem Pole, here are a few specific and commonly asked questions:

Q: Is it culturally appropriate to ask a carver to carve a totem pole for a non-indigenous person/people?

A: Yes, of course it it! You will be enabling carvers to live the life they love, make a living doing it, help support their community, and involve young apprentices to inspire and teach them how they can carry on these important traditions.

Q: Can the gallery help me have a custom totem pole carved?

A: Absolutely, we can! We have excellent relationships with some of the most experience and prolific Totem Pole carvers in BC, and many of them live and work near our gallery on Vancouver Island.

Step-by-Step

  1. We want to understand your vision for the totem pole. Do you have a vision of what the totem pole should represent and where it should stand? Do you have specific crests or designs in mind that you would like represented? Would you like the totem pole to tell a story, or would you like to just have a beautiful totem pole carved?
  2. Once we get a feel for what the totem pole should represent, the next step is to discuss size, time frame, logistics and budget. Having a 5-8 foot long totem pole carved is a fairly simple logistical project. Having a 12 foot, 20 foot or 50 foot long totem pile carved is a different story and involves complex logistics and heavy machinery.
  3. After establishing a rough budget range, the next step it to find the right lead carver for your project. Do you have a specific carver or carving style in mind? Do you want to work directly with the carver and manage the process yourself, or would you like us to manage some, or all of the details? Taking into consideration all of the information gathered, we would then consult with and recommend an experienced artist that would be an excellent fit for the project. That includes showing you existing examples of poles that the artist has previously carved.
  4. If you like what you see and are happy with the artist, the next step is to agree on the details, make a down payment and start the project. The first step being the creation of a draft design by the artist. After the first draft is created, the next step is getting feedback from you, and then tweaking it, if necessary, to best represent your vision. This is a very collaborative process that leads to agreeing on a final design. 
  5. After finalizing the design, the artist gets the go-ahead and begins carving your custom designed Totem Pole. We will touch base regularly and send you updates about where the project is and clarify any outstanding questions.
  6. Once the Totem Pole is carved and the lead carver has finished his work, and you are happy with the finished project, we will usually get into the logistical details with you and organize the transport and any necessary documents, monitor the progress of the shipment until it is delivered and stand ready to help if anything should come up.
  7. After delivery you will have the totem pole placed or mounted in its final spot and hopefully enjoy it every day for a very long time.

The below video features a behind-the-scenes tour of the studio of Chief Calvin Hunt, a highly respected and acclaimed Northwest Coast artist from Fort Rupert, BC. You will see him walk you through his studio, and get an inside peek into how this custom totem pole was created.

 

Email the gallery at info@spiritsofthewestcoast.com or call us toll free at 1-877-338-2120 to discuss custom options and help bring your vision to life.