The making of Ilchink

Exeter's own totem pole

6 - 24 June 1998

Ilchinik totem poleThe carving of the totem pole was conducted by Nuu-chah-nulth master carver Tim Paul, carvers Patrick Amos, Francis Mark and Leslie Mickey, with apprentices Tom Paul and Corey Baiden Amos. These carvers were part of an artistic delegation which visited Exeter in 1998. The manufacture of Exeter’s totem pole was not possible without access to external funding e.g. the Heritage Lottery Fund. Tim Paul and his family were very generous in their own contribution to this project.

A length of cedar wood was first outlined in Vancouver Island, Canada. It was shipped to Exeter and, once it had arrived, took one month to complete. Once the carving stage was complete the pole was decorated, and moved into its present location within the World Cultures gallery. The completion of Ilchinik was celebrated with songs, dance and other performances. There was also an educational programme for the public which accompanied this work.

The pole has a height of 18 feet (5.48 meters).

What is a totem pole?

Totem poles are located in the Northwest Coast of the USA and Canada. The First Nations peoples who used them are Tlingit, Haida, Gitksan, Nishg’a, Tsimshian, Haisla, Heiltsuk, Nuxalk, Ooweken, Kwakwaka’awakw, Nuu-chah-nulth and Coast Salish. Totem poles were not in use beyond this region, e.g. not on the Great Plains.

Poles celebrate and mark important occasions. They represent carved histories of clan lineage. Crests are owned by lineages and represent a dual relationship between the animal and human worlds. Generally, poles illustrate a myth or an encounter between an ancestor and the animal world. They are a statement of a people’s identity, and their relationships in the world.

Exeter’s contemporary pole is called Ilchinik, which was carved to celebrate the historic connections between Exeter and the Nuu-chah-nulth of Vancouver Island. A poignant connection that began with Captain Cook. It was Tim Paul’s ancestors who had carved many of the Nuu-chah-nulth items on display in the World Cultures gallery.

How to read the Ilchinik pole

Ilchinik was a very successful and powerful whaler.

The top two figures

Hu-pa-kwa-num – chief’s box with all his wealth.

On the lid of the box is our Ha-witiisum sea chief.

The third figure

This moon is Ti-as, our New Year. A new harvest season is beginning. Hu-pat-moon is used as a very powerful symbol of preparation for our Hesquiaht, Ehattesaht people. We have 13 moons in our calendar. Each month has a name which pertains to nature (such as) new greens growing, herring fish, berries, Fall, Winter.

The fourth figure

Tu-tu-ch the elder Thunderbird. Thundering now and then. Our people know Thunderbird has a home. Thunderbird lives in the mountains. Thunderbird is so powerful, just lifting his wings a little makes everything tremble and shake below him.

Bottom figure

Ilchinik the whaler was very successful at bringing in whales with his many powers. He is a man who cleansed and prepared himself when the moon was growing. The fins of the Whale are also the canoe of the whaler.

Hidden at the top at the back of the pole (a surprise for the visitor)

A very special race of people from out there. They left us with many good things. One thing was something which gave the ability to go anywhere we want in an instant, and another was a powerful weapon, a round cylinder rock.

The totem pole project

This was a unique event which celebrated the rich diversity of RAMM’s ethnographic collections by providing a venue for artists practising today, whose cultures or origin are represented in Exeter. It is part of a process for making connections across time and distance – in order to enrich many different people’s understanding of the meanings of objects in the city’s collections.

The basis for the project was due to the expertise of Jane Burkinshaw, a former curator who specialised in Northwest Coast art, and who holds important connections to Vancouver Island.

After initial community engagement work on Vancouver Island, where photographs of Exeter’s collection was shared with community members, plans were made to create something new for RAMM. In June 1998, a group of 25 Nuu-chah-nulth visitors of the Na-yii-I family of the Hesquiaht band journeyed to Exeter. Our visitors not only included carvers, but others who were experts in traditional songs and dances.

This was the first time Exeter acted as host to a delegation of Northwest Coast artists. The challenges experienced by this project realised that the needs for such occasions should not be rare to the city.