From Massett to Switzerland: New pole to adorn Olympic Museum

  • Sep. 21, 2009 3:00 p.m.

By Judy McKinley-The atmosphere in the shed is calm and there is a tangible feeling of focus. To the right as you enter there is Eagle, its wings outstretched, waiting to be lifted to the top of the pole. The fin of Killer Whale breaks into the quiet space.The pole is a commission for Jim Hart from the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland. The largest of its kind in the world, the museum houses over 10,000 pieces in temporary and permanent exhibitions, including historical souvenirs and objects – torches and sports memorabilia; and sculpture by the likes of Auguste Rodin. It is surrounded by a park with large scale sport-oriented sculptures. The aim is to illuminate not just the Olympics Games, but the tri-fold ‘pillars’ of sports, art and culture: “to show them by means of images and symbols that Olympism is not merely a matter of sports competition but rather a philosophy of life.” The Olympics have always had the goal of mutual respect for cultures – the five interconnected rings were chosen because at least one of them appears on the flag of every country in the world, and the interconnection is about the friendship and mutual respect that the games can foster.”It’s an honour to have been asked to create this. The totem pole is carved in our way, traditional style, and it’s a way we share our stories and this amazing place that is our home,” says Mr. Hart.The symbols on the pole represent water, land and air. “Salmon is at our base, that’s our foundation. We are all here because of the salmon, and a people need a strong foundation. Bear is our teacher, wise and respected, and it’s like she is licking her young, nurturing them. The door is like a portal, a womb, we are born and we can climb in for safety. Killer Whale is King of the Seas, commanding awe and respect, connecting us to the waters. And Eagle on the top of the pole has the ability to go to higher levels.”On the breast of the Eagle will be a Copper, with a gold overlay of the Olympic Rings. “Each copper is its own entity, has a history and is talked about like this. Having the Olympic Rings on the Copper shows its importance, its history, its value. It shows our dreams, hopes, our accomplishments.””These are our true stories,” says Mr. Hart. “They are like Romulus and Remus, but these are ours.”The killer whale is in part inspired for example, by the Killer Whale helper stories, stories where killer whales helped stranded fishermen, and humans helped killer whales. “You get into our stories, they have a lot of depth.”The pole will be raised at the museum as part of a cultural link with Canada and British Columbia for Vancouver 2010 Olympics in an exhibition called ‘Sustainable Development and Living Traditions’. A delegation of seven will accompany Mr. Hart, and together they will also host three days of workshops with school children aged 9 to 15 as part of the 29th Olympic week. The children will make paper masks, hear Haida stories and Haida songs, and see Haida dance and regalia and “how all of who we are connects as one whole.” At the end the entire community is invited to see and participate as the totem pole is raised.Included in the delegation will be Carl Hart and Eugene Davidson who have been working on the totem pole with Mr. Hart. Carl recently worked with his father on a pole to celebrate Bill Reid, now housed in the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art, and has helped his father many times in the delicate finishing stages of his work. Eugene apprenticed with Christian White for four years, and is working now on various projects of his own as well as supporting the vision of artists like Mr. Hart. Even lying down, the pole gives a visceral sense of being almost a glimpse of a moment in time. The eagle seems like it’s just about to unfold its wings, the bear like it’s reaching forward, and you can imagine the killer whale about to plunge back into the ocean. That’s no accident, of course.”It means something that these athletes are going for it, that they train and put so much of their focus. It adds to their country, and I respect that effort.””This totem pole is not made for here at home but it’s carrying that respect. The respect we have for what gives us life. They will know that we know who we are. We’ll leave enough that they’ll want to look a little deeper.”Last Sunday the totem pole embarked on its journey towards Lausanne. If you’re fanciful you can imagine it in a dozy-do with the Olympic Flame that is winding it way in our direction. Amidst the scurry to build, the commercial splash and the controversies often associated with the Olympic Game, it is somehow comforting to feel that there are moments when the Olympic ideals still have resonance.”The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

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