Happening now: Re-installing West Seattle’s stolen totem pole

July 28, 2010 at 9:23 am | In Rotary Club of West Seattle, West Seattle news, West Seattle parks | 26 Comments

ORIGINAL 9:23 AM REPORT: We’re at West Seattle Rotary Viewpoint Park for the re-installation of the totem pole stolen eight months ago, and since repainted and restored. The official re-dedication isn’t until August 10th, but they’re putting it back into place today, and the pole is already here, about to be taken off the back of a flatbed truck by a Ness Crane that itself has been jacked up off the grass. Among those here: Duane Ruud, one of the Rotarians who sleuthed the theft even before police made an arrest, and Terry Boden, the first Parks employee with whom we spoke for our first story in early December, while trying to determine if the pole had been taken with or without authorization. This all may only take about an hour. 9:49 AM UPDATE: The pole’s been craned over to its base, where it’s being fastened. To see the winged pole briefly in flight was quite the sight:

(video added 2:04 pm)

If you missed our earlier stories, the pole is being reinstalled by a crew from Artech, the Renton-based art-restoration firm that also has given it a facelift – from fumigation to repainting. 10:30 AM: The reinstallation is almost over. The pole’s in place; the crew’s starting to fold up, and some of the onlookers have drifted away. By all accounts, it’s gone well. We’ll have a full report later with video and better photos (Christopher Boffoli was there shooting for WSB as well – here’s a great image he got as Artech’s Roger Waterhouse worked atop the pole:)

26 Comments

  1. A nice ending to a bizarre story.

    Comment by CB — 9:29 am July 28, 2010 #

  2. The thief who borrowed it should be assisting and dressed in a vest marked THIEF.

    Comment by I. Ponder — 9:48 am July 28, 2010 #

  3. I think many of us would like to see this “thief” pay publicly for what he has done. I have spoken with a rotarian and the club feels that the “thief” is making restitution by paying for the restoration of the totem. I believe the “punishment” fits the crime which is possibly more than the slap on the wrist he would have received from our judicial system. So I say enjoy the restored totem and realize that the “thief” has made his restitution. We will just never know “who” he is.

    Comment by bebecat — 9:59 am July 28, 2010 #

  4. Drove by this morning — it looks great!

    Comment by MarySheely — 10:11 am July 28, 2010 #

  5. it boggles my mind to think that this was stolen in broad almost daylight, and no one questioned it. I’m sure watching it being reinstalled brings home how difficult (yet easy, crimewise) a task it was. This guy is truly lucky. Looks like money does actually talk !

    Comment by JanS — 10:27 am July 28, 2010 #

  6. The ruts in the ground from the heist are still somewhat visible, right next to where the (authorized) crane is parked now.

    Comment by WSB — 10:29 am July 28, 2010 #

  7. And if the guy didn’t have money? He would have been appointed a public defender at the taxpayers expense and would have been given x amount of hours doing community service and the Rotary could have put the bugridden totem pole back up as found. I think the community won on this one.

    Comment by bebecat — 10:41 am July 28, 2010 #

  8. The West Seattle guy who stole the totem pole(s) is just the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps someone out there could shed a little light — in print, on the air — on the regional black market for native American artifacts. Now that would be a story.

    Comment by mark — 10:56 am July 28, 2010 #

  9. Somebody stole the pole and the owners are satisfied with the owners are satisfied so the rest of you should move on!

    Seattle let the killers of the “Tuba Man” out with just 17 weeks for punishment. Did you expect the same courts to publicly flog the totem thief?

    Comment by marty — 11:03 am July 28, 2010 #

  10. I will look forward to seeing the totem back in its rightful place. It has been sorely missed.

    Comment by Diane Fields — 12:40 pm July 28, 2010 #

  11. It’s not so much the lack of punishment (the money payed out is probably sufficient) but the lack of a class B felony theft on his/her record that bugs me. I am forced rely on accurate background checks for professional reasons at times, and this person – whom I REALLY would not like to have access to sensitive stuff (say valuable art) – would show up clean.

    Do you want him/her working at your bank/brokerage/daycare?

    Comment by MAS — 12:42 pm July 28, 2010 #

  12. Excellent point, MAS.

    Comment by Bianca — 2:31 pm July 28, 2010 #

  13. From an earlier WSB report, it was reported that acrylic paint was used on the totem.
    I’m more than sure early Natives didn’t use acrylic paint, but stains made from berries, etc.
    The acrylic paint certainly is bright and colorful, but since the totem had been stripped down to the bare wood, it just seemed like a good time to use a more ‘authentic’ way to color, i.e. stains of some sort.
    JUST CURIOUS – Does anyone know if Native Americans NOW use acrylic paint on their totems, or are they sticking with the age-old stains used in the past.
    AND – does anyone know when the method of painting vs staining totems changed?
    Don’t mean to nit-pick, but very, very curious about the whole procedure.

    Comment by Jo — 3:24 pm July 28, 2010 #

  14. Jo -

    I’m not an expert, but I’ve never seen acrylic paint on native wood carvings, totem or otherwise. Now my not having seen it doesn’t mean it is not done. Just not in the legacy galleries I peruse or pieces I have purchased. For sure.

    Comment by westseattledood — 4:08 pm July 28, 2010 #

  15. Drove by it. The wings don’t seem to be parallel to the street.

    Comment by Admiral Janeway — 4:11 pm July 28, 2010 #

  16. Marty…yes, Seattle gave the Tuba Man killers just 17 weeks…and one has already been charged with armed robbery since he got out….still a miscreant. And what has the guy who stole the totem pole learned from his punishment?

    Comment by JanS — 4:33 pm July 28, 2010 #

  17. Jo: This totem dates from the mid 1970′s when I’m fairly sure the Native American artist didn’t limit himself to hand-ground pigments.
    .
    According to the restorers at Artech, this totem was not exactly stripped down to the bare wood. They cleaned it with a special solution, addressed some areas of insect infestation, and rinsed it.
    .
    I’m by no means knowledgable about totem poles so your question is perhaps best answered by someone with more expertise. But I’d guess that Native Americans way back when used the best, most durable materials they had access to at the time. Those materials may have been naturally derived minerals and pigments. Though at a certain point, regular trade would have given them access to manufactured materials. It makes sense that contemporary Native American artists would use acrylics (and other modern materials) now for their vibrance and durability.

    Comment by cjboffoli — 5:39 pm July 28, 2010 #

  18. Sometimes but not very often good things come from bad. This might be an example. Yeah it never should have been taken but it was. West Seattle should be glad (and we are) its back. How lucky it was found and right now is not in some hidden collection of art. I don’t care if it’s new after theft look with bright and colorful acrylic paint is not authentic. I can go to a museum to view those. Its even more a stunning vision in that location with the city backdrop. Its sorta a local icon and I’m just glad I can sneak a look once again when I drive down the hill. Fremont has the troll, we have our totem pole.

    Comment by Babs — 5:45 pm July 28, 2010 #

  19. So glad it’s back where it belongs.

    Comment by Lori W. — 6:36 pm July 28, 2010 #

  20. westseattledood and cjboffoli: thanks for your answers.
    Yes, I’m aware that this particular totem isn’t very old – and paint was used originally by the carver.
    And, I’ve never seen paint used on Native American carvings (authentic), either.
    However, the totem that was replaced and brought down from City View and is now in the courtyard of the SW Seattle Historical Museum at Alki was painted, also.
    And, I might add, looks like hell now.
    Babs: I also don’t care whether acrylic paint was used on this particular totem. It is stunning, I admit, but I was just curious as to why it was painted.
    Anyone out there in WSB-land know a local (or Alaskan) Native American that you can ask?
    Think I’ll do some research.
    Thanks, folks.

    Comment by Jo — 7:40 pm July 28, 2010 #

  21. Jo -

    Try calling the museum at the UW – The Burke or the UBC – Museum of Anthropology Their breadth of knowledge is vast on First Nation and Coastal Art. They’d speak to such inquiries, I’m pretty certain.

    http://www.washington.edu/burkemuseum/
    http://www.moa.ubc.ca/

    Yeah, I don’t REALLY care that it is painted in acrylic. It isn’t a found artifact, so there’s a difference in restoration choices, I would imagine. I also wonder though about the longevity of the choice. However, does looks far better than it did before, no question.

    Regardless, isn’t it amazing how right it feels to have that darn totem pole back up? What a story.

    Comment by westseattledood — 8:18 pm July 28, 2010 #

  22. Thanks westseattledood, wil follow through on your suggestions.
    I’ve always been fascinated by Native American art – totems in particular.
    There’s a beautiful one on the lawn of the Douglas-Truth Library on Yesler Ave (I go by there on the bus-trip to/from work).
    It probably was originally stained with something – is all gray now. A couple of years ago some student-types were up on ladders brushing out the deep-carvings then using some sort of blackening-agent in those carvings, making the carved totem figures stand out.
    I love that totem. Don’t know the history, but am now going to find out what I can about it.
    Can’t wait to see our restored totem.
    Jo

    Comment by Jo — 8:40 pm July 28, 2010 #

  23. JanS: At least the “Totem Thief” hasn’t been arrested again like TWO (not one) of the Tuba Man criminals.

    Comment by marty — 8:53 pm July 28, 2010 #

  24. I am so happy the Pole is back. I would hazard a guess that most of us on the 21 probably remember the older man who used to sit by the pole every morning. He died shortly before the pole was stolen. I have felt sad that not only was he no longer in the park, his beloved pole had also been taken. I hope now he can rest again.

    Comment by Keyboard Kerry — 9:07 am July 29, 2010 #

  25. Charles Edward Jenks. Anybody have any background information on this guy?

    Comment by Born To Be Mild — 5:01 am July 30, 2010 #

  26. You can look him up at http://www.whitepages.com, Charles Jenks, Black Diamond, WA. Lives on Lake Sawyer. This has all been published before here http://westseattleblog.com/2009/12/one-more-totem-theft-case-update-the-alleged-motive

    Comment by tina — 9:48 am August 4, 2010 #

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