Meaning behind the totem that flank new science center entrance

Woodcarver shares meaning of new Eagle and Raven totem poles

Carver Mike Webber stands with his totems hewn from a 850-year-old tree that are now installed at Prince William Sound Science Center. “A lot of Native people are either Raven or Eagle, so to have these two poles here is going to really represent a lot of people in this town,” Webber said. The raven and eagle, central characters on each respective pole, are family crests for two main Alaska Native communities in the Prince William Sound region. Photo courtesy of Eden McCall

By Eden McCall
For The Cordova Times

On a sunny spring morning in mid-April, Mike Webber applies a deep cedar-toned stain to finish the second of two totem poles. After months spent designing, carving and sanding, within minutes, the stain seals the wood, preparing the pole for Cordovan weather and accentuating the distinctive beak and talons of the totem’s main character, a carved eagle.

Mike Webber sands the second of two totem poles he is carving for the Prince William Sound Science Center in his Cordova workshop. (April 2, 2022) Photo courtesy of Eden McCall

To celebrate the placement of the totems in front of the new Prince William Sound Science Center this May, Webber, a lifelong Cordovan and Alaskan Native, shared his carving process and the stories behind two prominently carved birds important in Pacific Northwest Native culture, the eagle and raven, during Shorebird Festival on May 7.

“A lot of the native people are either Raven or Eagle, so to have these two poles here is going to really represent a lot of people in this town,” Webber said.

The grain of the tree and intricate, layered cuts are visible from the side of the eagle totem. (April 11, 2022) Photo courtesy of Eden McCall

The raven and eagle, central characters on each respective pole, are family crests for two main Alaska Native communities in the Prince William Sound region. Placed in front of the new Science Center, these totem poles symbolize the unity of the Raven and Eagle communities in Cordova.

As well as representing community, the raven and eagle are also tied to stories of creation and strength. During his presentation, Webber shared these stories as well as the meaning of other elements carved on the poles including an octopus, bear, humpback salmon and a variety of shapes called ovoids.

Mike Webber outlines design elements before carving another layer of the bear element on the eagle pole on April 2, 2022. After nine more days of outlining, carving and sanding, the pole will be complete. Photo courtesy of Eden McCall

Webber coordinated for the raven and eagle poles to be placed in front of the Science Center on Wednesday, May 4, in time for the 32nd Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival. The festival celebrates the connectivity of nature, art and community, and Webber

Webber presented about the totems Saturday evening in the North Star Theatre. While describing the meanings of the carvings during his presentation, Webber also explained the process of creating the poles and the importance of traditional woodcarving and Pacific Northwest Coast art for culture and remembrance.

The carved eagle sits on top of a bear and humpback salmon on the second totem pole Mike Webber completes on April 11, 2022. Photo courtesy of Eden McCall

“There’s not much art in this area where my grandparents are from, from Yakutat to the far side of Prince William Sound,” Webber said. “A lot of that got traded off when the fur traders were here in the 1800s.”

Webber scales the designs from the smaller paper to create copies of individual elements that he then traces onto the wood. Photo courtesy of Eden McCall

Since carving his first piece 22 years ago, Webber has created commissioned wood carvings that have traveled as far as the Caribbean. These new totem poles, funded by the Eyak Corporation and Chugach Alaska Corporation, will be only the second set of Webber’s totem poles to stay in Cordova.

Since carving his first piece 22 years ago, Mike Webber has created commissioned wood carvings that have traveled as far as the Caribbean. These new totem poles, funded by the Eyak Corporation and Chugach Alaska Corporation, will be only the second set of Webber’s totem poles to stay in Cordova. Photo courtesy of Eden McCall

“It’s going to be very powerful for myself to see it in Cordova, and I really hope other people have that same sensation.”