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Beavers crest pole is one of the numerous totem poles located in Stanley Park, Vancouver BC. Making of totems is a west coast art practiced by North west coast native tribes of Haida, Tlingit, Tsimshian and southeast Alaska. The arts dates back to 1800s and spread to other tribes in North West. Whenever new totem poles were to be raised, a ceremony called potlatch was held. However the art faced a setback when it was illegalized in the late 1800s. The ban on carving totems was lifted in 1951 and the people of northwest coast native tribes resumed carving totems. Totems are a major tourist attraction in Stanley Park. Inside the park, the beavers crest is located at the Brockton point.
Beavers crest pole was carved in 1987 by Norman Tait, a Nisga’a artist, with the assistance of his son Isaac, brother Robert and Ron Telek his nephew. The sculpture narrates a tale of how Tait’s family eagle clan approved the beaver as their crest and how the eagle and the raven got together and shared the sky
The tale of how people of eagle clan adopted beavers as their crest is very captivating. Long ago, five brothers of the eagle clan went hunting for beavers’ skins which were to be given at a potlatch festival. Four of the brothers went to the lake while the youngest was left behind to count the skins. As he went on counting the skins, he noticed two beavers struggling upriver and he helped them. He then followed the beavers to their lodge in the lake. On arrival, the beavers removed their beaver cloaks and to his astonishment, they became men. They then performed songs and dances to their chief carrying the message of death and destruction of their chief “our beaver family is being slaughtered” beavers said to the chief, “we must stop the killing” (Stewart 85). when the young brother returned home he performed the beavers song and dances to his kinsmen. Remorseful of their activities the people of the eagle clan took beaver for a crest and erected totem pole called big beaver. From that day henceforth the people of the eagle clan never went back to hunt beavers.
Beaver is a story character and heraldic crest among the native people of Canada who engaged in fur trade (Kramer 65). Fur trade was prompted by arrival of Europeans who could buy the fur. Search for animals bearing fur heighted such that hunting grounds became the theme of great rivalries. Desire for riches created even a more fruitful industry. Only those who possessed beavers crest were allowed to trade in fur.
Analysis of visual culture of Beavers crest pole
As mentioned in the introduction, carving of totem poles was illegalized in Canada in late 1800s. This meant that the northwest coast native tribes could no longer tell real life and mythological stories or even depict family crest. Totems being carved from cedar trees they could not last very long. By the time the ban on carving totems was lifted in 1951, it is common sense that the original beaver’s pole was decayed. To restore this great work of art Tait and his counterparts embarked on carving the beaver crest pole again. It was intended to restore the history of family crest of the eagle clan that had been lost over many years.
Unlike the original beavers crest that was raised during a potlatch festival to give the eagle clan a family crest, Tait’s beavers crest was carved with an intention to revive the lost culture and history of his people. The young generation did not know much about the history of their clan. Therefore Tait’s sculpture goes a long way in helping the young generation understand the origin of their family crest.
Tait’s beavers crest sculpture has maintained the original meaning. All the characters depicted in the eagle and beavers clan tail are still depicted in the sculpture. The eagle people are represented by the face of a man at the top of the pole. The five faces on the pole are representative of the five brothers. The frog and the eagle in the right and left hand of the larger figure represent Isaac, Norman Tait’s son and his brother Robert respectively. Below this large figure are people of beavers’ clan. Just like the beavers’ pole of potlatch festival, Tait’s beavers crest pole was erected by hands on October 30th 1987. Maintaining the original style of carving has helped preserve the culture and history of the Tsimshian tribe. If it was curved differently it would not bring out history of the family’s crest. The original totem depicted the circumstances that lead to eagle’s clan acquiring beaver’s’ crest.
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Northwest coast art had distinct elementary design elements that were used in carving totems. Use of formlines is one of the most basic and distinctive characteristic of northwest coast art (Gardner 385). It distinguishes it from other works of art from other areas. Primary formlines are usually black in color while the red, lighter and thinner form lines are secondary. Ovoids are another element of design used to make primary image and filling up negative space around the primary images.
The northwest coast tribes had unique and specific ways of presenting every character. This was determined by the tribes’ beliefs. For example Beaver was indicated with its protruding teeth, claws that are outstanding, particularly on the forearms, and are usually held close to the face. All these basic design elements of the original beavers’ crest pole are seen in Tait’s beaver’s crest pole. The use of these designs make the totem valid and look real just like the original.
Beavers’ crest pole gives a rich history of the northwest coast tribe of Tshumani. The peple of the eagle clan were in involved in a very productive fur trade with the Europeans who had entered Canada. They went hunting for animals of fur such as the beaver and killed many of them. This shows the lifestyle that people lived then. They were hunters and traders. However they stopped hunting beavers on realizing that they were fellow human beings and even decided to make beavers their crest.
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There are two intended audience s for beavers’ crest pole. Firstly, it was intended to present the culture of the Tsimshian tribe. It was therefore intended to remind the people of their culture and history. It was also intended to show other people who were not of the Tsimshian tribe to see the great work of art from Tsimshian In fact totems are a major tourist attraction in Canada.
Bever’s crest pole is great sculpture of Tsimshian tribe of North West coast of Canada. It depicts the tribe’s mythology that had faded over many years due to banning of totem carving in 1800s and family crest. It was presented in an eagle’s clan potlatch festival that saw the end to hunting of beavers and instead taking beaver as a family crest. Every clan in the native tribes of North West coast of Canada had a crest. It was a crime to present another clan’s crest. Beavers crest pole was carved by Norman Tait, a Nisga’a artist, with the assistance of his son Isaac, brother Robert and Ron Telek his nephew in 1987. It was hand raised on 30th October 1987. Today it stands at Brockton point in Stanley Park, Vancouver BC. The carving displays great elements of design distinctive of North West coast tribes of Canada. The beauty of the crest is depicted in the fantastic use of formlines and ovoids.