Standing tall, colorful, powerful and somewhat mysteriously are some of Alaska’s most intriguing treasures and unique storytellers – Native American totem poles.
While beautiful, these intricately and creatively carved and painted cedar tree structures are far more than local Alaska art. The carvings are monuments created by the indigenous Haida, Tsimshian and Tlingit artists of the region whose totem poles tell tales of Alaska Native people and cultures, of Alaska life and death, legend and lore, welcome and departure, success and shame, the area’s animals and communities, thanks and remembrance.
Totem poles often stand between five to 30 feet tall, though some loom taller than 100 feet. Each is sacred and an original – carved with symbols like ravens, eagles and owls, fish and frogs, beavers and bears, plants and people.
You can view totem poles in most Southeast Alaska communities, and on stunning display in Sitka National Historical Park, the Alaska State Museum in Juneau, the Totem Heritage Center and the Totem Bight State Historical Park in Ketchikan, and the Totem Park in Saxman. You can even see artists carving new totem poles in some of these places, as well as at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage or at some Alaska Native art galleries across the state.