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Tommy Joseph
Tommy Joseph, Tommy Joseph Current

Tommy Joseph was interviewed on November 17, 1999 by Jan Steinbright Jackson at KCAW radio station in Sitka, Alaska. In this interview, Tommy talks about being a Tlingit artist and wood carver, and about being the head carver for the Katlian Pole, and commissioning, designing, carving and raising the Katlian Pole at the Fort Site in Sitka National Historical Park in September, 1999. He also talks about becoming a carver, what inspires him as an artist, teaching carving classes, and mentoring beginning carvers. 

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 98-39-16

Project: Sitka National Historical Park
Date of Interview: Nov 17, 1999
Narrator(s): Tommy Joseph
Interviewer(s): Jan Steinbright Jackson
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
There is no slideshow for this person.

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1) How and why the Katlian Pole was commissioned

2) Working on the designs for the pole, getting approval, and the reasons for the pole

3) The crests on the pole, and the research behind making an accurate carving of Katlian's helmet

4) How the Katlian totem pole was raised, and totem pole preservation techniques being used by the National Park Service

5) His impressions of the Katlian Pole raising event

6) Early influences in Tommy Joseph's development as an artist

7) Explains the basic elements of form line art

8) The variety of items that Tommy Joseph produces

9) An upcoming trip to New Zealand to show his artwork

10) Preparing the ground for the Katlian Pole, finding Tlingit artifacts, and questions about the actual location of the Fort Site

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After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.


Section 1: totem pole -- commissioning of/ Perkins, Al/ funds -- raising/ log -- obtaining/ carver -- chosen as/ Beltran, Fred/ designs -- coming up with/ design -- approval/ clan crests -- approval of|

Section 2: design -- changing/ design -- approval/ totem pole -- carving/ Perkins, Al/ Kiks.a'di/ totem pole -- reason for/ Memorial Pole/ Fort Site/ Katlian/ 1804 Battle -- Kiks.a'di role/ Russian Memorials|

Section 3: totem pole -- crests/ crests -- Raven/ crests -- meaning of/ Kiks.ádi frog -- base of pole/ Katlian's Raven helmet/ beaver/ Deisheetaan clan/ dog salmon/ sockeye salmon/ wood worm/ Big Raven/ figure location -- significance of bottom/ Katlian's helmet -- research/ eyes -- copper/ totem pole -- unique use of copper| Click here for image.

Section 4: artifacts -- display of/ Katlian's helmet/ Katlian's hammer/ totem pole -- raising/ hole -- digging/ support structures/ raising -- help from people/ ropes -- pulling on/ support post -- use of/ totem poles -- care of/ Indian River History Pole -- transfer to National Park/ totem pole -- preservation/ Katlian Pole|

Section 5: Katlian Pole -- raising/ ceremony/ Indian River/ canoe/ clan -- Eagle/ weather -- bad/ people -- number of/ Mt. Edgecumbe students/ elders/ students -- help from|

Section 6: Northwest Coast form line -- use of/ Northwest Coast art form/ woodshop -- third grade/ halibut hooks/ Ketchikan/ revival -- Northwest Coast art/ carving -- demonstrations/ carving -- totem poles/ Ketchikan -- Totem Heritage Center|

Section 7: art -- form line/ art -- Tlingit/ U-shapes/ S-shapes/ form line -- rules of using/ Tlingit art -- old style/ form line -- style/ Jackson, Nathan/ form line -- creativity/ design -- variation/ items -- own formula for form line|

Section 8: Cultural Center/ carving -- variety of items/ project -- depends upon mood/ projects -- variety/ New Zealand/ projects -- thought goes into each one|

Section 9: New Zealand/ Artfest 2000/ artists -- gathering of/ Galanin, Dave/ Maori -- art form/ art -- demonstration/ culture -- sharing/ artists -- meeting|

Section 10: Katlian Pole -- raising/ ground -- preparation of/ archaeological dig/ artifact -- Tlingit/ Fort Site -- location of/ Perkins, Al/ Elders/ Visitor Center/ Fort Site -- research on/ artifacts/ Tlingit/ totem pole -- proud of/ National Park -- totem poles/ Governor Brady/ history -- new and old|