Pacific NW Totem Pole - 1950s First Nations Art By N. Billy
- Vintage item
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In the 1950s and 1960s. members of Pacific Northwest Native American tribes began carving model totem poles to be sold to visitors to the region. The totem poles were accompanied with information cards or tags to educate buyers about the art form. This 13 inch tall cedar totem pole was made during the 1950's and has an old paper tag taped on the back of the wings that explains the symbolism of the "THUNDERBIRD TOTEM POLE."
The top figure, which is always the most important, is the thunderbird, a supernatural being with great strength and power, beautifully carved with its curved beak and single double-ended wing. The wing is secured on the back with a small metal pin (covered by the paper label) that allows the wing to be spread wide or folded down (which we will do for shipping). The mythical bird is perched atop of a bear, also beautifully carved, with teeth bared and holding his prize catch, a nice fat fish. Native American people have always respected the bear and it's an important clan crest, found on many totem poles. The bear is atop a frog, literally "low man on the totem pole," which is also a clan crest.
This model totem pole was signed by N. Billy, who carved his name on the flat back of the pole. This is a carving from the Kwakwaka'wakw (Kwakiutl ) tribe on Vancouver Island, off Canada's Pacific Coast. Due to its size, the artistry in both carving and painting and the fact that it has an artist's signature, this would have been one of the more expensive models sold at the time. It is in exceptional condition, with no chips or cracks and very little wear (any remaining dust is complimentary). The strong colors of the paint---red, black, green, blue and white-- are still lustrous. The base is about 3 1/4 inches by 3 1/2 inches with the pole firmly attached, so it stands evenly without tipping. It's a handsome, desirable example of Pacific Northwest Native art.