In 1985, photographer and writer Vickie Jensen spent three months with Nisga’a artist Norman Tait and his crew of young carvers as they transformed a raw cedar log into a forty-two-foot totem pole for the BC Native Education Centre. Having spent years recovering the traditional knowledge that informed his carving, Tait taught his crew to make their own tools, carve, and design regalia, and together they practiced traditional stories and songs for the pole-raising ceremony.
Totem Pole Carving shares two equally rich stories: the step-by-step work of carving and the triumph of Tait teaching his crew the skills and traditions necessary to create a massive cultural artifact. Jensen captures the atmosphere of the carving shed — the conversations and problem-solving, the smell of fresh cedar chips, the adzes and chainsaws, the blistered hands, the tension-relieving humor, the ever-present awareness of tradition, and the joy of creation. Generously illustrated with more than 130 striking photographs, and originally published as Where the People Gather, this second edition features a new preface from Jensen and an updated, lifetime-spanning survey of Tait’s major works.
Published in 2020
The totem pole is a distinctive and widely admired form of traditional Northwest Coast Native art. Once nearly lost, this art form is alive and thriving today. In this beautifully photographed book, Vickie Jensen collaborates with Norman Tait, a renowned Nisga’a artist, and his crew of young carvers to document the process of transforming a log into a totem pole.
Throughout the carving process, Tait requires the apprentices to make their own tools, design their regalia and practice traditional drumming, songs and dances. He teaches the young carvers that carving a pole requires more than time and labour, more than a firm understanding of the tools and techniques and more than artistic and emotional commitment. The process involves respecting and following tradition and becoming involved in their cultural background.
Published in 2003