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The Totem Pole: An Intercultural History Books

The Totem Pole: An Intercultural History

By University of Washington Press


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Author Aldona Jonaitis and Aaron Glass

A seminal work on the Northwest Coast totem pole by two of the most renowned anthropologists in their field.

Aldona Jonaitis is the director emerita of the University of Alaska Museum of the North and professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. An art historian who has published widely on Native American art, she is the author of Art of the Northwest Coast and From the Land of the Totem Poles, among other titles.

Aaron Glass is an assistant professor at the Bard Graduate Center in  New York City, where he teaches anthropology of art, museums, and material culture. He has published on visual art, media, and performance among First Nations on the Northwest Coast and has produced the documentary film In Search of the Hamat'sa: A Tale of Headhunting.

The Northwest Coast totem pole captivates the imagination. From the first descriptions of these tall carved cedar monuments, totem poles have become central icons of the Northwest Coast region and widely recognized symbols of its First Nations peoples. Although many of those who gaze at thses carvings assume that they are ancients artifacts, the so-called totem pole is relatively recent artistic development - one that has become immensely important to the cultural revival of Northwest Coast First Nations while simultaneously entering a common place in popular culture from fashion to the funny pages.

The Totem Pole reconstructs the intercultural history of the art in its myriad manifestations fromt he eighteenth century to the present. Aldona Jonaitis and Aaron Glass analyze the totem pole's continual transformation since Europeans first arrived on the scene, investigate its various functions in different contexts, and address the significant influence of colonialism on the proliferation and distribution of carved poles. The authors also trace the development of the art form: its spread from the Northwest Coast to world's fairs and global theme parks; its integration with the history of tourism and its transformation into signifier of place; the role of governments, museums, and anthropologists in collecting and retoring poles; and the part that these carvings have continuously played in First Nations struggles to reclaim control of their cultures and their lands.

Sidebars by scholars and artists, including Robert Davidson, Bill Holm, Richard Hunt, Nathan Jackson, Vickie Jensen, Ki-Ke-In, Andrea Laforet, Susan Point, Charlotte Townsend-Gault, Lyle Wilson, and Robin Wright, add lively discussions of specific carvings and their contexts.

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