Vintage Model Totem Pole, c. 1940
Tlingit Carving, Southeast Alaska
15.25" high x 3" wide x 3" deep
The Haida and the Tlingit were both deeply impacted and influenced by the growing Euro-American fur trade in the 1700s. These groups recognized the new market these visitors created, and began to develop and adapt art to sell. As the fur trade declined, new visitors began to arrive in the Northwest Coast, including missionaries, government officials, anthropologists, and the tourist market expanded to meet these new tastes.
Haida and Tlingit artisans adapted to these new influences in various ways. Through the medium of art, indigenous peoples assert their authority to represent themselves to others how they wish to be represented; this authority can be asserted by developing new crafts or modifying traditional forms. Each Haida and Tlingit tourist art piece asserts the artist’s ideas of identity and cultural heritage.
Native carvers supplying curios for the Pacific Northwest souvenir trade in the late 1800s created the first model totem poles. Over time, totem poles came to be perceived as generalized icons of "Indian life" and Native groups all across North America began making model totems for the ever-expanding tourism.Today, Native artists in both the United States and Canada have revitalized the model totem pole tradition, sharing it with a growing fine art audience.