The Raven/Shark Totem Pole Returns to Sitka

The original Raven/Shark totem pole standing upright against a wooden wall in the Anchorage Museum.
The original Raven/Shark totem pole on display in the Anchorage Museum atrium.

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News Release Date: January 25, 2017

Contact: Angie Richman, (907) 747-0132

The original 19th century Raven/Shark Pole has returned to Sitka National Historical Park after being on display at the Anchorage Museum for 30 years.
The Raven/Shark Pole is believed to have been carved for the wife of Chief Tom Teh-Gat of a Tlingit village near Klawock. The pole was donated by Chief Tom Teh-Gat to Governor John G. Brady and the people of Alaska in 1903. Governor Brady installed the pole at Totem Park in 1906, and the pole became part of the permanent collection of Sitka National Monument in 1910 following the Monument’s creation.
Due to its seriously-deteriorated condition, a replica of the Raven/Shark pole was carved by Tommie Jimmie, Sr. in 1978 to replace the aging original on Totem Trail. Although its base, the figure of a bear, was retained at the park in Totem Hall at the Visitors Center, the upper section of the original Raven/Shark pole was then loaned to the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center. Thousands of visitors were afforded a close-up view of this iconic piece of totemic art as it has stood on display in the Museum’s atrium since its installation in 1987. A renovation to the atrium space has prompted the return of the pole to Sitka.
This original Raven/Shark pole was part of the totem pole collection shipped by Governor Brady to St. Louis for the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, also known as the World’s Fair. It was then displayed at the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland, Oregon in 1905, before its shipment to Sitka for installation on Totem Trail. Raven/Shark made yet another excursion to be displayed at the Alaska Exhibit at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York.
There is often no certainty about the symbols and stories on totem poles from the 19th century. Raven/Shark is thought to be either a crest pole, which displays clan crests (in this case a bear or stump at its base, a fox or wolf above, followed by a shark or dogfish, and crowned with Raven), or a legend pole, telling the story of Raven, who went underwater to a new world and fell in love with and married Shark, despite her shame at the ugliness of her skin and face. Raven, the legend goes, said true beauty comes from within.
“Sitka National Historical Park is known world-wide for our collection of totem poles. To have one of the original poles returned is very exciting for the community and for park employees working to preserve these priceless cultural resources,” said Superintendent David Elkowitz. “After consultations with the Sitka Tribe of Alaska and Sitka clan elders, we will make plans to put the original Raven/Shark pole back on public display.”

Last updated: March 15, 2017

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