Friday, March 4, 2011

Glacier Bay Tribal House Project

 I spent a delightful few hours this afternoon in the building that used to house the school auto shop. Who know's, someday it may be a shop again, but for now it's being used to carve a screen that will be transported to Glacier Bay National Park,  the original home of the Huna Tlingit. The project manager is Gordon Greenwald. Prior to his retirement from the Hoonah City School, he was the wood shop teacher, as well as teaching drafting and Northwest Coast Art. As I look around my office I see several plaques as well as a small paddle, a replica of what the local natives would have used to paddle their canoes up and down the Alaskan coastline. All have been decorated in the designs  similar to what  the Tlingit would have put on their paddles or totems or screens. Several of my kids excelled at Northwest Coast Art, even receiving requests for designs for paddles. The design of this screen is an original one that Gordy has made himself. I wish I could remember all that he told me about it. At the top left, if you look closely, you can see a canoe that has been carved out of the cedar. I believe the figure in the canoe depicts his family's clan who lived in Lituya Bay on the outside coast. Under the canoe on the far left is a circle with a hole in it. That represents a stone, which the Tlingit used for anchors. Gordy's wife, Chris, braided a rope out of red cedar strips that will be used for the anchor rope. I can't recall what the figures under the canoe represent, possibly several other clans or tribes that make up the Huna Tlingit. There are small figures that look like bears that go up the side and over the top of the large figure on the right. I believe he said they were icebergs. The large figure is the glacier that drove the Huna from Glacier Bay, their ancestral home some several hundred years ago it's believed. The Tlingit had no calendar so it's hard to say when this occured exactly. Between the ears of the glacier there is another canoe. Though it is hard to see, there are figures carved, sitting in the canoe. Gordy said they represent all of the people living in Hoonah. He mentioned that I was being represented by those figures as well. Frankly, I felt pretty honored. Between the arms of the glacier is a carving of Kasteen, an old woman who chose to stay behind and die when the rest of the tribe left to escape the advancing glacier. If I remember correctly, she didn't want to be a burden on her people. You can see her eyes are portrayed by copper. If you look closely, under Kasteen is the outline of a doorway. I guess it will be cut out in the final work. I asked Gordy why it was so small. He replied that if any enemies tried to enter their home, they had to stoop to enter, putting them at a disadvantage. The second picture shows some of the carving tools the artists are using. There are knives and chisels and a special hammer made for stiking the wood handled tools to prevent damage. The wood carvers on this project are
(left to right) Herb Sheakley, Owen James, Louie White Jr.(aka King Louie) and Goron Greenwald. It's quite an extensive project. I read that several huge red cedar logs (4 ft. in diameter) were cut for this screen. When it's completed the screen will be sixteen feet at it's highest point by thirty feet wide. When completed it will be dismantled, panel by panel and trasported to Glacier Bay. There will be a structure built for it. Gordy and the other carvers will be providing the Park Service with four carved posts as well, representing each of the four clans or tribes. Having seen this undertaking first hand, I have to say it's pretty impressive. These men can be proud of their handiwork. It's going to be seen by multitudes of people in the coming years and it's testimony to their skill. Well done fellows.


8 comments:

  1. That's a beautiful piece of art! Thanks for sharing!

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  2. I was checking it out about a month ago when they didn't have as many panels done yet and there weren't any standing up at the time. I'm glad I waited to get a picture.

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  3. That was a great post dad. Really good art work. Maybe you can get a picture when it's all done to. I used to love going to the Northwest Coast Art class with Mr.G.

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  4. Hi Camille,
    I'll see if I'm around when they finish it. I may be out fishing by then. I know that you and Amber and Autumn all did well in that class. They still have the plaque that you did hanging in the hallway at the school.

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  5. If you are not there to get any pictures I'm sure I'll see some somewear eventually. That's nice they still have the plaque up. Kind of weird to. hahaha

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  6. Mr. G was far and away the best teacher I ever had. Good to hear that he's still going strong.
    I still have my wolf canoe paddle & bentwood box that I made in his class.
    Thanks for the great post!

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  7. I was working with one of the boys in Spec Ed when I was at the school and we had his wood working class. He's a very talented man. I was amazed to see the bentwood boxes come together.The Tlingit were very talented- from making baskets from spruce roots to making boxes from a board. G was a good teacher. He made the class fun without losing control of the students. What more could you ask for?

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  8. I gotta agree...G was one of my favorite teachers by far..I was totally bummed that he retired...I took as many of his wood shop and/or Northwest Coast art classes as possible, and spent time down there working on my paddles and other projects during study halls or whenever I could manage it! Can't wait to see the finished product!

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