Spencer Museum of Art The University of Kansas

Welcome to the Spencer Collection

totem pole
  • Luke Watson
    died 1948
    active: Canada
  • totem pole, 1937
  • Where object was made: Graham Island, British Columbia, Canada
  • wood, paint, carving
  • Object Height/Width/Depth: 261 x 30 x 28 cm
    Object Height/Width/Depth: 102 3/4 x 11 3/4 x 11 in
  • Gift from the estate of Gertrude W. Green
  • On view: Stewart Gallery, 406, W2
  • 2007.3118
Label Text

The painted totem pole has an off-white base color, with accents of light green, red, black and purple. There are numerous ovoid and u-form shapes on the eyes, limbs, and ears of the carved figures. The front of the totem pole is painted and carved with several figures, but the back is unpainted and is roughly hollowed out and flat on the edges.

According to Marius Barbeau in "Haida Carvers in Argillite" the totem pole illustrates the Nanasimgyet or Orpheus story on the top half of the pole and the Qagwaai or Strong Man of the South story on the lower half of the pole. From top to bottom, the carved figures are identified as the white sea otter, seated on top of the head of the protecting eagle. Between the wings of the eagle is a human figure identified as the lost wife of the story, who is seated on top of a whale. Beneath that whale is another human figure, identified as Nanasimgyet, who is squatting on all fours and holding onto the eyebrows of another whale. Below that whale is possibly another sea otter. Below that figure, on the lower half of the pole, the first figure is identified as the Crab of the Skidegate Narrows. Below that is a very large figure identified as the Sea-Bear, and out of its mouth is emerging a bird figure identified as the Raven.