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Totem Pole Raising to Strengthen Community Spirit
Photos and Story by James Hill
SYLVANIA CAMPUS – Once the final piece has been carved and the last touch of paint has been brushed, a Portland Community College project will culminate in the festive raising of a 30-foot cedar totem pole in a clearing of fir trees behind the campus’ performing arts center. Richard Hunt, a Kwaguilth artist from British Columbia, will put the finishing touches to the pole before it will be raised from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursday, May 24 at the Sylvania Campus, located at 12000 S.W. 49th Ave. The public is invited to watch Hunt perform carving demonstrations from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. from May 21-23 (Monday through Wednesday) at the totem pole site. Through generous support from the Spirit Mountain Community Fund, Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC), the Allen Foundation for the Arts and the PCC Friends of the Totem Pole, Hunt was commissioned to design and carve the pole. Marie Watt, PCC art instructor and totem pole committee chair, said the project cultivates strong awareness of Native arts and cultural aspects for the community college and the community."Similar to its historic function, it will be like a house post and welcome the public to the Portland Community College Sylvania Campus,"said Watt, who is a member of the Seneca (Iroquois) nation. "The main function of such programs should be to support student success and community esteem. And give voice to ideas, issues and values the Native community wishes to debate, discuss and celebrate."Richard Hunt, 50, was born in Alert Bay, B.C. and works out of his studio near Victoria on Vancouver Island. He began carving at the age of 13, mentored by his father Henry. In 1973, Richard began working at the Royal British Columbia Museum as an apprentice carver under his father and the following year he assumed the duties as chief carver in the Thunderbird Park Carving program. He remained in that position for the next 12 years until he left to build a career as a full-time artist in 1986.Hunt quickly became the third artist from the Hunt family, his grandfather Mungo and his father the first two, to become internationally recognized and in 1991 received the prestigious "The Order of Canada"award.He said he developed the idea for the PCC totem pole from the Hunt family crestpole, which incorporates such figures as the eagle, bear, man and salmon. "These figures also represent the Portland area and people,"Hunt said. "On the back of the pole there is a smiling moon, slightly tilted, as to welcome students arriving on campus each day. The pole will be carved in traditional Kwaguilth style."Of the carving, Hunt joked, "I think the tree is better off a pole than shingles."Kwaguilth is an indigenous and traditional name for the tribe that non-natives have historically referred to as the Kwakuitl.The totem pole project began in the spring of 1998. In addition to its visual effect, the pole defines a welcoming place for the college’s diverse community and will act as a catalyst for ongoing teaching and learning programs. Events that have helped support the totem pole project include PCC’s Annual Winter Powwow in January, the Art Beat 2000 event featuring the "Three Generations of Haida Weavers,"and PCC Summer Art Institute classes on Native American plateau baskets and culture, and Native American art history in collaboration with the Portland Art Museum.The PCC Foundation has received a generous and prestigious $10,000 challenge grant from Spirit Mountain Community Fund. Donations can be made by sending a tax-deductible gift to the PCC Foundation, attention Kristin Watkins, at P.O. Box 19000, Portland, OR 97280-0990.