Palmer, Alaska - How do you build something that represents a concept as ethereal as community? In Alaska, you build a totem pole. The Alaska State Fair is the future home to Southcentral's newest totem.
Paul Marks is a third generation totem carver. Working from a U-Haul trailer from the fairgrounds today, Marks and his crew applied the last few strokes of paint to the fair's newest attraction.
The Alaska State Fair, like any fall gathering across the nation, got its start to bring the local farming community together, but it also takes a community to hold a fair. Both different aspects of a community came together today because of a totem pole.
"This is a pole that was done not only for the Native people of Alaska, but for all people, to help us. Basically it's like being a community pole, which was what we decided to call this pole," Marks said.
Master carver Paul Marks is putting the finishing touches on the totem. It's art that he says will bring people together, reminding them of how much they have in common.
"It's a bridge builder and it's also kind of a link to hold us, to connect us all together, and we're all here and everything and whatever happens in the world affects all of us," said Marks.
But as with many traditional ways of Alaska Native people, building a totem pole holds more than one meaning for its creator. Marks is using the experience to pass on what he learned from his father and uncles to his own son and nephew.
"I'm pretty much trying to follow the same style, family style that we have. My other uncle also helped me with some of my drawings," said Willie Dugaqua, an apprentice totem pole carver.
The eagle, sockeye salmon and wolf will tell the tale of the people of Alaska. The animals are different, but they're tied together in the day-to-day struggle to survive in the Last Frontier.
"We are displaying the wolf on the bottom here, which is pretty significant throughout the state of Alaska. There's wolves probably all over in Alaska," Marks said.
The totem was carved from an Alaskan red cedar. It was four feet in diameter. The pole now weighs 800 pounds, and it took more than 400 hours to carve.
"Anywhere from 40 to 60 hours per feet, per week," Dugaqua said.
When it takes its permanent place in Pioneer Plaza, Marks says the totem will remind people to keep their heads up and face the future.
Native dancers sang, danced and drummed the pole into its place this evening. Marks says it's a good beginning for the totem that he hopes to someday show his children.
Representatives from many tribes, including the Tlingit, Haida and Athabascan, were present at today's ceremony. There were even some members from the Navajo tribe.