Historic American art in the form of a 71-foot story pole on the Capitol Campus is scheduled to be removed because of extensive rot and water damage, state Department of General Administration officials said Thursday.
The 70-year-old cedar pole adorned with figures carved by notable Northwest tribal carvers is in danger of imminent collapse and can’t be salvaged, according to an inspection report by Architectural Resources Group Inc., a San Francisco-based consultant who recommended that the pole be removed for safety reasons.
“We’re going to be taking down the story pole in the next couple of weeks,” GA spokesman Jim Erskine said.
Water content in the pole, which features 21 carved figures towering over the lawn outside the GA Building, was measured at 40 percent, indicating severe rot, the firm noted.
For the past week, the pole has been encircled with yellow tape like that used at a crime scene to keep people a safe distance for the art-turned-safety hazard.
Removal of the pole comes as no surprise to Makah tribal carver Greg Colfax, who completed extensive restoration work on the pole in 1987 and 1997, including carving a new eagle at the top of the pole and repainting the figures in the original colors.
“Personally, I think it’s had its time,” Colfax said. “The inside of the pole is hollow and rotten. That’s typical of that style of carving where everywhere a tree limb was removed becomes a weak spot for water to enter.”
Colfax urged state officials to begin work on a project to replace the story pole with another piece of Indian art by a contemporary American Indian artist.
That’s the plan, said GA spokesman Jim Erskine, adding that his agency will work with the governor’s Office of Indian Affairs on a suitable replacement project.
“We’re in preliminary discussions with Northwest tribes about replacement artwork,” he said. “What it is and where it goes is still to be determined.”
Meanwhile, the dismantled pole will be stored temporarily in the Capitol Campus greenhouse, he said.
The project grew out of a meeting on the Tulalip Indian Reservation in the 1930s between then-Gov. Ronald Hartley and Snohomish Chief William Shelton, a renowned pole-carver.
The project was controversial, with some legislators in support and others opposing placement of American Indian art on the campus, Colfax said. The location of the pole in a fairly remote area away from the public entrance to the Capitol, with the carved figures facing the interior of the campus, was intentional, he said.
“That way, people wouldn’t have to look at it if they didn’t want to,” Colfax said.
Story poles and their figures are designed to teach children life lessons.