Salish welcome pole finally finds a home

The OlympianJanuary 19, 2014 

Editor's Note: This story was originally published on June 3, 2004.


A retired Mukilteo accountant and his wife ended a rancorous episode for the Port of Olympia on Wednesday by buying a Salish welcome pole once envisioned as a Port Plaza fixture.

Charles Pancerzewski and his wife, Gayle, plan to donate the 36-foot totem to the University of Washington's Burke Museum of natural and cultural history.

The Pancerzewskis are longtime collectors of Northwest American Indian art and have made other donations to the museum.

Their home is full of art similar to the pole, which they purchased for $30,352 through a sealed-bid process.

"I don't call it a home," Gayle Pancerzewski said. "I call it a museum here."

Her interest in American Indian art stems, in part, from her ancestry, which includes the Tlingit tribe.

Port officials were relieved when two of three sealed bids they opened Wednesday were higher than the suggested $20,000 sale price for the pole.

"It's been a long and arduous process," said Paul Telford, president of the port commission. "I'm glad it's finally over."

The Pancerzewskis were required to issue a cashier's check to the port Wednesday for the $28,000 bid, plus sales tax.

The port commission once hoped that the pole would serve as a symbolic welcome to all who use the port, whether for commerce or recreation.

It was the port's second attempt to sell the pole, designed by Duane Pasco and David Franklin.

Two years ago, the port failed to attract a minimum requested $60,000 bid to sell the pole on eBay.

The pole became controversial because convicted felon and Squaxin Island tribal member Doug Tobin took part in carving it.

As part of a 1997 contract, the port paid Tobin $66,000 to complete the carving after he had served an eight-year prison term for participating in a murder-for-hire plot.

Tobin now is serving a 14-year prison term for geoduck poaching. During an interview last month at the state prison in Shelton, Tobin complained that selling the pole dishonors it. He said he hoped it would somehow be erected at the port.

Some in the Olympia art community and some tribal members hoped the pole would be erected, too.

But as community opposition to Tobin mounted, the port commission voted unanimously in January not to erect the pole, and to try again to sell it.

Port Executive Director John Wolfe opened three sealed bids to buy the pole on Wednesday morning. The other parties bid $23,000 and $10,000.

"Good. This is good news," Wolfe said after seeing a couple of qualified bids. "I'd like to put this issue past us and move forward."

Port Commissioner Bob Van Schoorl said he was hopeful the Pancerzewskis' payment to the port could go toward a less controversial art project for Port Plaza.

Charles Pancerzewski said that he learned the port was trying to sell the pole from Burke Museum Director George MacDonald. The museum has four outdoor totems and it plans to add the Salish pole to the outdoor display.

MacDonald said he is comfortable looking beyond Tobin's criminal past.

"Presumably, he's paying his debt to society," MacDonald said. "That shouldn't diminish his status as a carver. We're excited to accept the donation."

Pancerzewski said he was happy to make a public viewing of the pole possible. It has been stored in a port warehouse for months.

"I'm not here to moralize," he said. "I'm interested in the artwork."

Though he said he was not trying to pay tribute to Tobin, Pancerzewski said he felt residents would benefit from the pole's addition to the museum collection.

"Hopefully, people will enjoy seeing the pole," he said. "Just enjoy the art."

Jim Szymanski covers business for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-357-0748 or

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