The Northwest Coast totem pole captivates the imagination. From the first descriptions of these tall carved monuments, totem poles have become central icons of the Northwest Coast region and symbols of its Native inhabitants. Although many of those who gaze at these carvings assume that they are ancient artifacts, the so-called totem pole is a relatively recent artistic development, one that has become immensely important to Northwest Coast people and has simultaneously gained a common place in popular culture from fashion to the funny pages.
The Totem Pole reconstructs the intercultural history of the art form in its myriad manifestations from the 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 describe their theories on 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 a signifier of place; the role of governments, museums, and anthropologists in collecting and restoring poles; and the part that these carvings have continuously played in Native struggles for control of their cultures and their lands.
Short essays by scholars and artists, including Robert Davidson, Bill Holm, Richard Hunt, Nathan Jackson, Vickie Jensen, Andrea Laforet, Susan Point, Charlotte Townsend-Gault, Lyle Wilson, and Robin Wright, provide specific case studies of many of the topics discussed, directly illustrating the various relationships that people have with the totem pole.
". . . an essential work, one that will surely serve as a model for other explorations of material culture in contexts of interethnic encounter."―Francis Goicovich, Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Fall 2011
"Jonaitis and Glass invigorate the history and analysis of Northwest Coast totem poles with a neomodernist discussion of how cultural interaction unfolds as a dialogue between groups."―Daniel Monteith, Alaska History, Fall 2011
"This richly illustrated, highly accessible, and thoroughly researched volume has made an important contribution to the study of totem poles, Northwest Coast art and culture, museum studies, and the history of anthropology."―American Anthropologist
"…an informative, thought provoking, and beautifully illustrated collection of essays by art historian Aldona Jonaitis and anthropologist Aaron Glass. Not only does the book present solid scholarship, its contents clearly are the result of the authors' genuine affection for their subject matter."―Indigenous Peoples Issues and Resources
"Although there are a number of books on totem poles… this book stands alone in adding the influence of non-Native and non-Northwest Coast individuals to the development and use of totem poles as monuments and as icons. Valuable for an academic audience, the book is readily accessible to general readers, as most theoretical ideas are concisely and clearly discussed in footnotes. The variegated and constantly shifting uses and meanings of the totem pole icon are truly incredible. Highly recommended."―Choice
"Words like seminal, definitive, and encyclopedic are bound to accrue to The Totem Pole: An Intercultural History…. Widely researched and richly illustrated, this big, beautiful book tells us why we find images of totem poles on everything from fridge magnets and Frisbees to back scratchers and Boy Scout badges."―Georgia Straight
"… the defining take on this fascinating subject."―Art History Newsletter
"The Totem Pole is a visually rich, gracefully written cultural biography."―The Book Monger
"Recommendation: For anybody interested in Native American art."―Birdbooker Report
" This is a book about totem poles throughout their history and the consequences of their global diaspora. It is thus a global anthropological and art historical study. . . . This volume is everything you always wanted to know about totem poles, and more!"―Nelson Graburn, Pacific Historical Review, February 2012
"In The Totem Pole: An Intercultural History, Jonaitis and Glass trace the permutations of form and perceptions this iconic form of Northwest Coast art has undergone over the last 200-odd years. They weigh questions of authenticity, misinterpretation, appropriation, denigration, and, ultimately, transformation at the hands of contemporary Native artists…. The range and depth of this handsomely illustrated book should make it the definitive study of the totem pole… that is, until artists push this living tradition in yet another unforeseen direction."―City Living, The Seattle Times
"… a big, beautiful book that takes on the subject seriously but interestingly."―City Living, City Living
"Writing a poem is like trying to describe a totemic column which passes right through and beyond the world. We see it, but its existence is elsewhere."―Stanley Diamond, Totems