Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Totem taken

"[I]ts lovely warm browns and reds still glowing on the three great figures which compose its height. At the bottom a great bear-like creature, paws pleading; and on his head, a pale lean man who holds before him a gigantic fish which reaches from his shoulders to his toes; and on his head, hawk-nosed and savage, crouches a great bird, his tail behind him abristle with red feathers made of shingling." These are the words American actor Vincent Price used in an autobiography to describe the 25' (7.6 m) cedar totem pole that stood on the patio of his Beverly Hills mansion. Price and his former wife had acquired the Tlingit kooteeyaa in 1942 from American actor John Barrymore, who had also used it as a garden ornament until his death. During a journey on his yacht in 1931, Barrymore (PICTURED LEFT IN THE IMAGE ABOVE) had taken the pole from the abandoned village of Tuxecan on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska, U.S. In 1981, Price gifted it to the Honolulu Museum of art, where it has been in storage. Anthropology professor Steve Langdon of the University of Alaska Anchorage has pieced this history of the Tlingit totem – sacred to his people – together in hopes of getting it repatriated. In addition to its cultural value, it once held the bones of the dead, but where those are now is anyone's guess.

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