A big blue house on Monastery Street in Sitka has been the subject of more attention than usual. That’s thanks to an 11-1/2 foot tall totem pole displayed on sawhorses in the front yard. It is one of many of the totem poles around town, but this one is a bit different. It features two figures who have been in the headlines a lot in Alaska: Governor Mike Dunleavy and President Donald Trump.
“We’re calling it a ridicule pole, a shame pole, for our governor of Alaska, Dunleavy, and our president of the United States, Donald Trump,” says Tommy Joseph, Tlingit master carver.
Joseph has carved many of the totem poles around town, but none of them is quite like this work. “Not really flattering images, but we’re trying to make a point,” Joseph says.
President Trump’s likeness is carved at the base of the pole in a white button-down, black suit jacket, and his signature cardinal-red tie. His eyes are spots of black against washed out pale skin. He holds a pacifier in his right hand, another in his mouth, and a bone spur coming out of his left foot.
“He says he doesn’t have a racist bone in his body but he has a racist bone spur there, that’s just what I see and feel,” says Joseph. He depicted Governor Dunleavy as crows on the pole with small beady eyes, another red tie, and blush pink lips.
He started working on the pole last Friday with his partner, Kristina Cranston. The couple decided to carve this one after Governor Mike Dunleavy vetoed the state operating budget last month, eliminating funding for the State Council on the Arts, cutting funding for the University of Alaska, and much more. Alaska is now the only state in the union without a State Council on the Arts.
The pole catches the eye of many people walking up and down Monastery Street. They stop to talk with Tommy or Kristina about the project. Rain washes the tweets written in chalk off the pole periodically throughout the day.
“They’ll start to chuckle and laugh or it gives them an odd emotional feeling,” Joseph says. He left out a bucket for community members, and visitors, to leave suggestions. Unintentionally, it has turned into a donation bucket: people leaving cash to support the project, which Joseph would like to see travel throughout the state. He has his sights set on Juneau for a next stop.
Joseph and Cranston are still working on some details, like fingernails and ear canals. But between them is one another unique element: two Twitter birds and a dialogue box painted in chalkboard paint. Chalk sits on one of the sawhorses so passersby can update the pole with the latest “news,” in response to President Trump’s Twitter obsession.
“It’s incredible, the stuff he gives you,” Joseph said.
The budget cuts concern Joseph and Cranston on a personal and institutional level. He has already lost work thanks to the elimination of the State Council on the Arts. And the piece of wood he chose to carve the pole on was no accident. The piece of wood he and Kristina carved was the back slab to the totem pole at Pacific High School from several years ago.
And that project?
“These were all public art programs that funding comes through places like Alaska State Council on the Arts,” Joseph said.
A previous version of this article referred to Kristina Cranston as Christina Joseph. This version has been correct. KCAW regrets the error.