David Williams Sr. Carving a Small Raven/Beaver Totem Pole

David was a master Tlingit artist of the Eagle moiety, Chookaneidi clan, Brown Bear House. His Tlingit names were Kaash de yaaw dakaa and Kaawk saa.gaa.

In this process he is using a chisel (tiyaa), and hammer (tákl) to remove large pieces of wood to start establishing the proportions of the design. He is blocking out the design of a beaver (s’igeidí). He has already blocked out the top of pole and you can see the shape of the Raven’s (yeil) head and wings.

Cultural Narrative: 

It is customary for a member of one moiety to commission work from the opposite moiety. David is a member of the Eagle (ch’áak’) moiety and he is carving a raven/beaver pole which are crests of the Raven (yeil) moiety, so for this project it is very appropriate for David to be commissioned to do this work.

Traditional Knowledge: 

David is blocking out his design as a third step in the process of carving a small totem (kootéeyaa). Though there are several types of indigenous wood available for carving, David chose yellow cedar (xáay) for its ease of carving, and its durability. Because of its natural coloration and beauty, in addition to its oil content, a lot of the time carvings made of this wood were left unpainted.

Artists would choose other wood species if their projects were large in scope because of the one major negative aspect of yellow cedar to split when used for these larger projects, and especially after the project had been completed.

David like other wood carvers had to make his own carving knives and adzes (xút’aa).