Story pole inspires students

 - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

LITTLE BOSTON — Littered with wood chips, pieces of artwork and neatly organized tools, the Port Gamble S’Kallam tribal carving shed holds something special for Wolfle Elementary School — a connection between the tribe and students in the form of a totem pole.

The idea has been etched in the mind of first grade teacher Linda Middlebrook for more than a decade. She has been wanting to see tribal art in the school’s hallways since she started teaching there 11 years ago. Working with the tribe and school/tribal liaison Dennis Jones, Middlebrook was able to contract two master carvers to pour their ingenuity into the traditional sculpture.

“One reason I wanted this was because we don’t have any S’Klallam art in the building,” she said. “In a nutshell, I wanted to show the relationship between the school and the tribe.”

Enter Jake and Floyd Jones, the two brothers who carved the House of Knowledge longhouse’s ornamental sliding doors several years ago. Floyd Jones has been carving for about 10 years and Jake Jones has been honing his skills for much longer.

“He’s been carving a long time,” Floyd Jones said. “Probably about 40, 45 or even 50 years now. He’s really a master carver.”

Between the two and several apprentice carvers, the story pole is slowly coming to life. It will showcase three figures: a watchman at the bottom, an orca whale in the middle and an eagle at the top. The eagle’s wings are unusual in they are not cut at a 90-degree angle from the pole like in many tribal designs, but rather tilting upward, Floyd Jones said.

“The eagle represents the strength of the teachers and the students,” Middlebrook said. “The (orca) represents our S’Klallam students and the watchman is watching over all of us.”

The watchman figure will be holding a disk carved with the Wolfle symbol, the Northwest Coastal design of a wolf. Floyd Jones hinted his brother had found several stories about each of the figures, but wouldn’t revealing them until the pole raising ceremony in September.

Since the beginning of the project in April, students have been keeping journals and drawing pictures of the progress, Floyd Jones said. Middlebrook said she is hoping to create a children’s book after the story pole is completed. The most rewarding and exciting part of the project has been the connection made between the carvers and students, she said.

“Every time I go out to the story pole, students are touching it or taking wood chips away from the site,” she said. “Several are bringing their parents out to see it, two students have done that so far.”

The totem pole is expected to be completed by August and erected in September during a traditional pole raising ceremony. Ceremony plans have remained vague while Jake Jones works out the details, Middlebrook said, but all of the students involved, including those moving to the middle school next year, will return to see it honored and anchored to their school.

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