Downtown Sitka (Photo courtesy of Karla James/KCAW).

In the third of a three-part series, two master carvers from Sitka are at work on totem poles for Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Totem Pole Trail, planned to go up in Juneau next year

Tommy Joseph was just finishing up carving a canoe when Rosita Worl from Sealaska reached out, asking if he’d be interested in carving a pole for the Juneau trail.

Tommy Joseph stands in his front yard in Sitka. (Photo courtesy of KCAW/Nina Sparling.)

“They wanted me to do a pole representing all of the eagle clans, all the eagle moiety,” Joseph said.

Joseph got to work in Sitka,  sketching out his vision for the pole.

I had given them like, I think, overall, four different renditions, because I had it way too complicated at first and needed to loosen up a bit and redesign some of it,” Joseph explained. “And so we did that a few times. And after the fourth rendition, they agreed on it, and so made them their model.”

He’s been working with two apprentices on the project. He said it’s coming along on schedule.

And we’re cruising along,” he said. “And amidst all the tourists, crazy year for tourists, huh?”

Joseph said he thinks SHI’s vision for the project is ambitious. He doesn’t remember anything like it being done before. SHI invited master carvers and their apprentices in Southeast to create 10 totem poles representing Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures. They’ll be installed on Juneau’s waterfront sometime next year.

So that’s a lot of a lot of different styles, interpretations, and, and whomever the person is behind keeping all this organized in track with all 10 carvers and all that is, I wouldn’t want their job, but I think it’s quite amazing what’s happening now,” he said.

Meanwhile, another Sitka carver, Nicholas Galanin is at work on a pole representing the Kaagwaantaan clan. He has more than 20 years experience in customary arts and carving. 

Nicholas Galanin poses for a photo with his monograph. (Photo courtesy of Emily Kwong/KCAW).

He said the trail is probably the first time in more than 40 years that there’s been so much carving going on in Southeast.

I think it’s going to be really important to all of these communities,” Galanin said. “I think it would be amazing for these artists that are apprenticing and getting to work on the project. Hopefully, you know, in the continuum of this type of work.”

Galanin is working with two apprentices — his cousin, Lee Burkhart, and a longtime mentor, Will Burkhart.

So hopefully, some of these apprentices on these projects will be able to lead you know, their own totem poles on this down the line,” Galanin said.

SHI’s ultimate goal for the trail is to raise 30 poles along Juneau’s waterfront. So far, 10 have been commissioned and funded by Sealaska with a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. 

KRBD published the first part of this series, featuring carvers from Metlakatla and Prince of Wales Island, on Aug 31. The second part, featuring Ketchikan carvers, was published Sept. 2. KRBD was unable to reach the carvers in Kake and Juneau to be featured in this series.

Raegan Miller is a Report for America corps member for KRBD. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one. Please consider making a tax-deductible contribution at