Welcome to Planet Alaska. The following is a guest post by Joy Prescott, a writer and artist working on the Shakes Island Renovation Project in Wrangell, Alaska.


Being an adzer for the Shakes Island Renovation Project doesn’t just mean adzing wood. Under the direction of master carver Wayne Price, our adzers make bentwood boxes, clean totem poles, carve paddles, and even make flutes. 
Master carver Wayne Price says a blessing over the Eagle Totem after it was taken down and laid on the lawn behind the Chief Shakes
tribal house.
All of these tasks, however, involve working with wood, mostly local cedar. Wood that ties them closely to the environment of Wrangell and the surrounding islands.
Adzer Josh Lesage with carved flutes

Adzer Justin Smith with an
unfinished paddle that he's carving.

The cedar tells the story of the rainfall and the temperature of every year through which it lived before being harvested. As they work with the wood, the wood’s story is revealed. Carver Vanessa Pazar says that adzing is a "communication with the grain.It’s similar to talking to a person and learning their story. I spend anywhere from eight to ten hours a day communicating with a piece of board, reading the grain, and how it grew up and what kind of life it had.”
Carver Vanessa Pazar
with her handmade adze. 
This kind of intimacy with the wood can only be achieved when working by hand, sometimes even
with tools you’ve made yourself also from local wood.    
Vanessa's adzing on a
cedar plank designed
for the reconstructed
Chief Shakes tribal house.
Not only does working with new wood create intimacy with the environment, but working with the old totems does as well. When you’re on the ground looking up at the totems, they seem so high and distant. But the adzers on the project have gotten up close and personal with the totems. Some were taken down and laid behind the Chief Shakes tribal house, while others the adzers accessed from scaffolding in the Kiks.adi Totem Park.

Adzer Tammi Meissner says about looking up at standing totems, “you saw them but you didn’t really get to see them. We got to touch them and clean them and feel them.” Not only did the adzers become intimate with the way each pole was carved but they learned the grain of the trees which grew a generation previously – in tree years anyway. They’ve seen how, as master carver Steve Brown writes, “deeper sculpture with more exposed end-grain usually brings more water and fungus spores into the totem interior.”
Adzer Tammi Meissner cleans roots
and other growth out of the top of the
Chief Kadashan Crane totem before
totems are tarped for winter weather
The adzers cleaning the poles also know every bit of weathering that has occurred since the Shakes Island totems were raised – most in 1939-1940. They’ve seen every woodpecker cavity. They’ve seen how wider growth rings, indicating faster growth, also brings more fungal decay.

Adzer Susie Kasinger cleans the
Chief Kadashan Red Snapper totem.

They’ve pulled the rot out following its sometimes tortuous path into the totems’ interiors. They’ve gently pulled and untangled the roots of trees and other plants from the tops of the totems. They’ve used bottle brushes to clean out the nostrils and skewers to reach deep into cracks.

Tammi says, “we just feel connected…We know them intimately.” Adzer Linda Churchill has even tasted the lichen from the back of the Eagle totem as it fell into her mouth while on her back wedged under the totem scrubbing it clean. You can’t get any more connected to your culture and your environment than that.
Adzer Linda Churchill works to clean the underside of the Eagle totem.

* * *

Joy Prescott is a writer, photographer, fiber artist and crochet pattern designer currently working as the documentarian for the Shakes Island Renovation Project. She lives and works from her studio in Wrangell, Alaska.


Anonymous said…
Always enjoy your blog, thanks for sharing. Great new interface too.
Joy Prescott said…
Thanks for posting this. I am very honored to be able to work on this project.

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