‘Log on;’ Texas gets totem poles
Even though he has sculpted— there’s no other word— three stunning totem poles and is obviously a highly-talented craftsmen, he smiles and tells the interviewer: “I’m no artist.”
But anyone who walks through his Bell Avenue back yard or his workshop certainly comes to a very different conclusion.
Edelmon has carved, finished and painted three Alaskan totem poles so authentic you might get frostbite looking at them in August.
Why? He wanted to.
TRIP—In 1994 the Edelmons took their “dream trip” to Alaska, driving the fabled Alaska Highway and visiting both the largest city, Anchorage, and Fairbanks, the inland city almost to the Arctic Circle.
“I was fascinated,” he said. “I just had to have one.”
CEDAR LOG—Back home in Texas it became obvious that you couldn’t just go down to your local store and order a totem pole.
“I knew if I ever got one, I was going to have to make it myself,” he said.
His first opportunity came while Edelmon was busy with one of his main, and most cherished, projects, volunteering to help restore the I&GN Railroad Depot for the Rockdale Historical Society.
“We found about a nine-foot cedar log down there that had a rotted-out area,” he said. “Instead of throwing it away, I brought it home.”
“I had books that showed how to make them and the books said you didn’t need any special tools, just a lot of chisels,” he said. “I found out pretty quick you did need some special tools if you were going to do it right.”
PAINTED POLES—It took between a year and a half and two years to finish the first one.
He set it up in his yard.
Edelmon soon became an expert in what kind of wood was optimum for a totem pole.
He located a hackberry log.
“Hackberry is an ideal wood for totem poles,” he said.
The second totem followed.
While the first one had only painted highlights, the second totem had much more color and the third one even more.
SYMBOLS—What does it all mean?
There’s no one answer. A totem pole can mean almost anything, depending on who carved it and for what reason.
“ The animal symbols have meanings to the Native Americans who carve the poles,” Edelmon said.
While symbols change depending on tribe and ritual, many of the most popular animal symbols have similar meanings. Here are a few of them:
• Eagle—Courage, divinity.
• Bear—Healing, power.
• Cat—Mystery, magic.
• Owl—Insight and (how about this, Harry Potter fans?) messenger.
But that only scratches the surface of totem poles’ rich lore. They can mean almost anything.
There’s even one from the 1800s in Saxman Village, Alaska, intending to depict William Seward—Lincoln’s Secretary of State and the man who secured Alaska for the U. S.—as a cheapskate.
What do Edelmon’s totem poles mean?
“I just like to look at them,” he grinned. “You notice they’re not in the front yard. They’re for me. I really enjoy looking out there and seeing them.”