Stan Bevan

Northwestern B.C. totem poles bound for Minnesota

They'll be raised at a special ceremony to be held in November

Three locally carved totem poles left Terrace last week bound for Minnesota where they will be raised in a ceremony mid-November at the headquarters of a charitable, grant-giving foundation.

Stan Bevan, Dempsey Bob and Ken McNeil, art instructors from the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art at Northwest Community College, have worked on the poles here over the last five months, with help from past and present students. Completed and given a formal blessing in September, they were shipped on trucks Oct. 12.

The three will follow their creations to their new home in Minneapolis, Minnesota for a traditional pole raising ceremony Nov. 15 at the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation. The foundation is said to have assets in the $3-billion range and is named after a fortune heiress, called the “silent philanthropist” because of her large, anonymous donations. She directed that the foundation distribute her estate when she died, giving grants to support the arts, the environment, disaster relief, and children and families.

The Freda Diesing school in Terrace, received a $300,000 unsolicited grant from the foundation in 2012, which forged a connection between it and the school.

The poles tell of the life of the foundation’s founder.

Stan Bevan’s 22-foot totem pole (see front page) features a large eagle at the top, and at the base, a bear grasping a salmon and a small spirit bear. Together they represent Cargill’s visit to B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest. She later donated money for its protection.

Cargill is regally featured under the top eagle, holding a woven cedar mat, which reflects her love for art and weaving. On the mat, Bevan carved three faces, representing the three philanthropies started by Cargill under the banner of the larger foundation.

In the centre of his totem pole, Bevan carved a blind man to incorporate a traditional story from the Northern B.C. First Nations. Known as “The Good Luck Story,” the tale is about a blind elder who winds up rescuing his tribe.

“It’s a story about respecting all people, because all people can contribute,” Bevan said, adding that the foundation requested it be included after they saw the blind man in one of his other carvings and heard the story.

Bob crafted a second totem, a 12-foot masterpiece which encapsulates aspects from all of Cargill’s life.

He etched Cargill seated with a globe in one hand, holding out her other hand as though offering something to the world. Cargill is adorned with a cedar headdress and a cross necklace, because she was a Christian, and carved above her are three faces. They represent the three women involved with Cargill in founding her philanthropies.

On the sides of the pillar, Bob added a eagle and a bear, again representing the Great Bear Rainforest which she loved.

McNeil’s 16-foot masterpiece features a prominent raven, a teacher of the people, and a frog, the helper of the raven, both values of which Cargill valued.

Cargill stands at the top of McNeil’s pillar holding a copper shield with a salmon design, and four small faces which represent scholars from the four corners of the earth. Together it’s about the richness of all she did.

McNeil said as a team, the carvers intentionally incorporated designs which distinguish First Nations art in northwestern B.C., including the raven, frog, eagle, bear and salmon.

“They’re not familiar with our type of art,” he said of those who will soon see the poles on display. “We tried to implement everything to show them what we could do.”

The totem poles are being acclimatized to their new home leading up the ceremony. In their new home, they’ll stand in a naturally-lit, large, open space, visible from both floors of the foundation’s newly expanded headquarters, said communications director Leeanne Huber. “There’s a large skylight above it, so they will get a lot of natural light… and there’s a natural, river-rock base that they will be placed upon, so it’s a very pretty setting.”