Our World-class Totem Pole Carver
people who see Skip Duhamel on his fish tug, or working with Johnny
B in the winter, or with his equally-talented wife and their daughter
Desire at a school function, don't realize that he is one of the
diminishing number of master Totem Pole carvers. When he was sixteen,
his father, a great student of human nature, came home with a
seventy-year-old man he'd picked up hitch-hiking, Tom Kukoosh,
who turned out to be an itinerant carver. Skip had already apprenticed
himself to a jewelry maker, but when the old man offered to stay
in his home and teach him, he changed his artistic direction.
was not an easy tutelage. Skip was impatient, wanting to rush
to the last steps, but Kukoosh stressed repetition, performing
each special stroke over and over until it became second nature.
After a year the teacher finally pronounced his charge ready to
strike out on his own. Saying that, Kukoosh left, never to be
heard from again.
As word of Skip's talent spread, commissions began to increase.
He did four pieces for the interior of Deerwood, and is working
on a cameo of a fawn for the main fireplace. He has turned his
home into a ship by carving a mermaid for its peak. He has achieved
such a level of expertise that he was asked to carve the Celtic
Cross presented to the people of Arranmore, which he donated;
now it hangs in St. Crone's church.
a Totem Pole requires a great commitment, which Skip has been
willing to make. His work begins with the search for the right
treealways a cedar. Once he has located a candidate, he
makes an offering of tobacco or sweet grass, asking it what secrets
it contains and thanking the forest for its gift. Sometimes what
is revealed to him at this point will determine some or all of
the shapes he imparts to the finished work. Once he's determined
the design, he has to draw it onto the surface of the peeled tree,
which requires him to hold the entire plan in his mind. When it's
finished he frequently paints it with enamel and then coats it
Totem Pole tells a story about his people and what they do. One
that he made for his father used only fishing symbols, but the
ones he did for the Turtle Dome in Peshabetown, for which he was
paid five thousand dollars, used that community's clan symbols,
the turtle and the otter, the crane, bear, loon, kingfisher, wolf,
sturgeon, rabbit, and eagle.
Taking between one and two years each to create, Totem Poles
require a great deal of patience. Sometimes the inspiration wanes,
and he has to walk away for a momentor for three months.
The act of carving, though, puts him in touch with his heritage,
and each stroke elicits memories of the people and their stories.
Because his religion plays such an important role, carving a new
work is like an act of faith, letting him both express and affirm
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