End of tale for artwork?

Capitol Campus: Decay endangers tribal story pole; assessment under way for 70-year-old cedar log

September 28, 2010 

OLYMPIA — A prominent piece of American Indian art that’s adorned the Capitol Campus since 1940 is showing serious signs of decay and faces an uncertain future, according to state Department of General Administration officials.

Barriers were placed around the 71-foot story pole last week as a safety precaution while state officials await the results of an inspection report, which could lead to anything from restoration to removal of the pole.

The cedar pole features 21 carved figures, each telling its own story.

The pole is not to be mistaken for a totem pole, whose figures symbolize a family’s history. Story poles were designed to teach children life lessons. Traditionally, they were often carved from the interior pillars of ceremonial longhouses inhabited by Coast Salish coastal tribes.

According to information posted on the General Administration website, the pole project grew out of a 1930s meeting on the Tulalip Indian Reservation between then-Gov. Ronald Hartley and Snohomish Chief William Shelton, a renowned pole-carver who agreed to take on the project.

Shelton carved on the pole for five years, but died in 1938 before it was completed. It was completed by other tribal carvers.

A fundraiser organized by the Snohomish Parent-Teachers’ Association collected $200 from schoolchildren around the state to purchase the pole. The pole was erected on the Capitol Campus by a crew from the then-state Department of Forestry in June 1940.

The last significant work on the pole took place in 1997 when it was pressure-washed, sanded, caulked and then repainted by Makah tribal carver Greg Colfax, using the original color scheme.

Previous to that maintenance work, the pole had been scraped, caulked and repainted four times since the early 1950s, according to state records.

Architectural Resources Group Inc., a San Francisco-based company, did the pole assessment last week, GA spokesman Jim Erskine said. The report and recommendations from the company are due back to the state agency this week, he said.

The state will work with Northwest tribes to determine the fate of the pole, GA officials said.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444 jdodge@theolympian.com

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