Native American

Totem Pole Model

Artist: Hiłamas (Willie Seaweed or Smoky Top)
Culture/People: ´Nak´waxda´xw Kwakwaka´wakw
Place: Blunden Harbor (Ba’a’s), mainland British Columbia, Canada
Media: Wood, enamel paint, and pencil inscription
Dims: 8 x 5.7 (wings) x 2 in. (20 x 14.5 (wings) x 5 cm).
Date: c. 1940s
RTC No: NA1023
Gift of Ralph T. Coe, 2011


This diminutive Totem Pole Model was created by the great artist, chief, and cultural leader Willie Seaweed (Hiłamas or Smoky Top), who was born around 1873 in the remote Kwakwaka´wakw village of Blunden Harbour, British Columbia. Willie Seaweed’s long life traversed the entire duration of the potlatch ban, which was formally ended in 1951—sixteen years before his death in 1967. During this time, Willie Seaweed led his people as a hereditary chief and an incredible artist whose skill, vision, and techniques continue to inspire generations of Kwakwaka´wakw artists.

This particular pole represents the fluidity with which Seaweed navigated between maintaining his community’s religious and cultural traditions in the face of the violent oppression of the Canadian government, while simultaneously taking advantage of the expanding tourist market for Indigenous “curios” such as this piece. This pole shows a bear munching on a salmon surmounted by a dramatic thunderbird, all very precisely crafted in Seaweed’s signature style. On the back of the pole remain faint pencil notes, “Willie Seaweed, From Blunden Harbor, Price $5.00 Cash.”

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