Killer Whale Totem
EXHIBITION:Preston Singletary: Solo Exhibition
Preston Singletary’s work often features the Killer Whale–or orca whale–because of its significance as one of the crests of his clan. In the “Killer Whale Totem”, the new full-sized totem produced in bronze, the pole shows a Killer Whale with an Eagle. Preston’s moiety is Eagle, and his clan is Killer Whale. The Thunderbird emerging from the mouth of the Killer Whale in the center is representative of the artist who carved the original pole out of wood, David Svenson (Non-Indigenous/Adopted Tlingit). At the bottom is the Wolf design, the original moiety for the tribe, which was replaced by the contemporary depiction of an Eagle.
“I am not a carver, so when I want to design a totem pole I develop the design and the concept and then I partner with a carver to bring forth my ideas. The Killerwhale is my family’s main crest symbol, and I am of the eagle moiety—hence those two figures on top. David was adopted by the Shangukeidi clan, and his clan crest is the thunderbird. Along the bottom is a wolf, and on each side of the bottom is a soul catcher with a spirit face in the center.”
“The Killerwhale Pole pays tribute to our friendship and to both of our cultures,’ says Singletary.
Below is a Tlingit origin story of killer whale:
The tale begins with a young warrior Natsilane who is destined to become chief due to his skills, intelligence and generally pleasant demeanor. His brothers are extremely jealous of this, and plot to depose him. The brothers take Natsilane out to sea fishing, taking him further away from the shore than they have ever been before. As he becomes concerned, the brothers throw Natsilane overboard and row away.
As Natsilane is beginning to drown, he is found and rescued by Sea otter, who floats him to a large island saying it is too far back to the mainland for Sea otter to help him back. Instead, he promises to look after Natsilane and shows him the best hunting and fishing grounds. Once Natsilane is settled on his new island, alone, Sea otter confers one last gift to him, a pouch of seeds, and instructs Natsilane to sow them. Natsilane does so, and over the years the seeds grow into a bewildering array of different types of tree, all of which are now native in the Pacific Northwest. Natsilane uses wood from the trees to carve tools and a boat.
In appreciation of Sea otter, Natsilane then tries to carve a new totem. He tries all the trees, but settles on using a large Yellow Cedar tree and carves a huge fish from it, and leaves it on the shore for Sea otter to find. The next morning when Natsilane goes down to the shore, the fish carving is gone and in the bay is swimming Blackfish, the first killer whale. With a boat and supplies, Natsilane travels back to his home, guided by Blackfish. When he arrives, he finds his brothers out fishing again, squabbling. He orders Blackfish to destroy their boat and drown his brothers which it does immediately. When it returns, Natsilane orders that from this day forward it must never harm a human again, and that when it finds a human in trouble at sea it must help him. He then sends the whale off to sea. Natsilane returns to his village, which had been terrorised by his brothers, and becomes chief.