Family Story Totem
(Dimensions Include Base)
EXHIBITION:In The Den: Digital Exhibition on Bears
The Story of Susie and the Bear:
“They went out into the woods, those uncles. They were out gathering food. That’s when they came across a bear out there in the woods. They shot that bear, but what they didn’t know was that it was a mother bear that came in between the uncles and the cubs. That is what happened. They shot that bear and then they saw the cubs. They took those cubs back to the village Douglas. That is what they called it at that time. That is where my great grandmother lived. She was called Susie Johnson. She lived there at that time. She was a young girl then. She was young.
She liked that bear cub that the uncles brought there. She wanted that bear cub as her pet. Her parents wanted her to be happy so they let her keep that bear cub at home. She kept it at home and raised it like one might have a dog. My great grandmother, Susie, loved that bear! What a thing to have a grizzly bear for a pet! She would get food for that hear and feed it, and take care of it. She made a bed for that bear and it lived there with the family.
There was a woman who was Russian. There were a lot of Russians there. She made taffy and would sell it in the streets. When she sold it in the streets, the bear would smell the taffy. That bear loved the taffy that it would get from my great grandmother. Every time that Russian woman would go through the street with that taffy, the bear would smell it. After a while Susie wanted to get that bear some more taffy, so she went to get some berries from the fields at the base of the mountains. She took those berries back to the village. She had those berries that she sold for money to buy taffy. That’s how she got taffy for that bear.
After a while that bear got big. Too big to keep around the house. The bear was getting too dangerous and big to keep. So her uncles took it back to the woods. They left that bear in the woods so it wouldn’t hurt anyone in the village. She cried when they took that bear away. She cried, but after a while she knew why the uncles took that bear away. Because it was getting too big. Even after it was gone, she cried sometimes. My great grandmother loved that bear.
– Preston Singletary, 2001
Creating the Pole:
Inspired by this tale from his family, Preston Singletary designed a totem pole to honor and remember this charming and wholly Northwest story. Though he has touched on the story in past works, this Family Story Totem in bronze is a definitive masterwork that combines Singletary’s vision, experimental nature and design prowess.
Great-grandmother Susie, depicted as a young girl, is the primary character on this pole. She stands with a copper in her hands, a shield-shaped object that was used by the Tlingit people as a form of prestige. A traditional woven blanket rests around her shoulders, and she stands on a richly carved bent-wood box, which would have held her family’s most precious belongings. On her head is her clan hat, with three rings denoting a high status that comes with hosting many potlatches. And perched on Susie’s hat is the bear cub, with a mischievous smile, along for the ride.
The pole was carved over the course of a year into a large log of red cedar by collaborator David Svenson (Adopted Tlingit/Non-Indigenous). Molds were then taken of the carving to produce a plaster version for further casting in bronze and glass. This monumental bronze, produced by Bronzesmith Fine Art Foundry, is one of an edition of 10.