Booth Western Art Museum to unveil 37-foot totem pole Wednesday
by Marie Nesmith
Dec 06, 2011 | 2036 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Nishga Totem Pole is installed at the Booth Western Art Museum. The Cartersville venue will hold a public unveiling ceremony for the monument on Wednesday at 11:30 a.m.
SPECIAL/Booth Western Art Museum
The Nishga Totem Pole is installed at the Booth Western Art Museum. The Cartersville venue will hold a public unveiling ceremony for the monument on Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. SPECIAL/Booth Western Art Museum
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On Wednesday, the public is invited to welcome the Booth Western Art Museum's newest and largest art piece. Standing at 37 feet, the Nishga Totem Pole will be unveiled on the venue's north lawn at 11:30 a.m.

"It's an outstanding example of Native American art," said Booth Executive Director Seth Hopkins. "We have a number of beautiful objects and artifacts inside the museum. This is a wonderful opportunity to add a great piece outside, particularly when you come onto the grounds of the museum through the entrance where the majority of the visitors come. To see the bucking bronco horse/cowboy piece that's there currently and to have this piece there right by it, really kind of gives you the full cowboys-and-Indians idea in one glimpse."

On loan by Tom and Ann Cousins, the 2,300-pound Nishga Totem Pole has an intriguing past. Jim Dunham, director of special projects for the Booth, said the monument was commissioned in the 1970s by an American couple who were "adopted" by the Nishga's Gosnell family after moving to British Columbia. When a fire left the couple with no funds to install the totem pole, it was implemented into a traveling art show, which toured nine museums over several years. Afterward, Tom Cousins contacted the monument's owners and purchased the totem pole, later installing it in his Wildwood Office Park in Marietta.

"We were very excited," Hopkins said, referring to his reaction to learning the Booth could obtain the monument on a long-term loan. "I had seen it a couple of times when I had been down in Marietta in that neighborhood and was aware of it. So when the initial call came, I was very excited about the opportunity to get it here.

"And then the next [thought] was how are we going to do that, because it was not a simple process to have it uninstalled and brought up here and then there was some work that needed to be done on it, preservation work. And then to figure out how to install it. The actual installation probably only took a couple of days but from the time we started talking about it to getting it actually taken down, getting it moved up here, the restoration work done and actually installed, [it] was probably almost a year. So it's been a long-term project."

Following the unveiling ceremony, Dunham will highlight the Nishga Totem Pole and discuss the importance of these monuments at the museum's Art for Lunch program in the Booth Ballroom at 12:15 p.m.

Since prehistoric times, Dunham said, totem poles were hand-carved by Indians along the coast from Oregon to Alaska. The art of making these monuments saw more than a 100-year surge after the 1600s, when the Indians received metal tools, such as chisels and knives, from pioneer fur traders.

"We're going to cover [some information] about Northwest Coast Indian culture and just how totem poles are used," Dunham said. "There's two misnomers that probably the general public thinks. No. 1, is that this is a religious item and it's not. There are probably a lot of people who think a pole with animal images on it was either considered a worship item or a sacred item or something like that and that's not true.

"What this really is is a sign post that tells the mythological background of the family. ... The one thing that is true is that most Indian tribes, especially the Northwest Coast have the background of that originally their people came from supernatural animals. So they believe that their ancestors were either animals or ravens or eagles and then they gave birth to people that were human beings. So it's real interesting because some of the Indians there say it's sort of like Santa Claus -- it's interesting but we really don't buy into it [as] reality."

With the Nishga Totem Pole telling the story of the Gosnell family, Dunham describes the red cedar monument's purpose as a family crest.

"On this totem pole, the top [image] is an eagle and then there's also a human being on it. There's a man holding a salmon," Dunham said. "Then there is a wolf and there is a bear and there is a beaver. These images are representatives of a single family and that family is [the] Eli Gosnell family."

Regular admission fees will apply to the Art for Lunch program. For more information about the Booth -- 501 Museum Drive in Cartersville -- and its programs, call 770-387-1300 or visit www.boothmuseum.org.