The City of Saxman has secured an $825,000 Community Development Block Grant to complete its planned expansion of the Edwin DeWitt Carving Center.
The current carving center is about 1,300 square feet, and was built in the 1980s. Max Mercer, who is working with Saxman as a consultant on the project, says a bi
g reason to expand the center now is because the Native community’s totem poles are getting old, and need restoration or replacement.
“The carving center serves as the place that restores and maintains the incredibly important totems, and as the totems in Totem Park get older and older and older and decay, it becomes even more important for the carvers in the carving center to restore and maintain those poles,” he said.
Mercer says a second reason for an expanded carving center is the need for young carvers to learn from the masters.
“Right now, the carving center is only big enough for a couple of the master carvers and professional carvers to work in,” he said. “An expanded carving center is really going to allow the master carvers to work side-by-side with some of the junior carvers and enterprise carvers and hobby carver, so those important traditions, skills and knowledge can be passed on.”
And then there are the tourists. When the center first was built, Saxman saw about 10,000 tourists per year. Now, the popular totem park tour attracts 120,000 visitors each season, and there’s just not room for all the tourists who want to see carvers at work.
“They have to stand outside the carving center and peer in through the windows to try to catch a glimpse of the carvers in action,” Mercer said. “And it’s just really hard to accommodate all of these tourists, at the same time as having the carving center be a place where people can actually get work done.”
The total project cost will be about $965,000, and Mercer says he hopes to get a bid request out in about two months. After a construction contract is signed, Saxman City Administrator Leona Haffner will oversee the project.
The Community Development Block Grant is federal money provided to Saxman through the state. Haffner says additional funding help came from the Ketchikan Gateway Borough and the City of Saxman.