From the “things I found in my mother-in-law’s house” series, this tiny totem pole is labeled, “Made in Canada by Ellen Neel and the Totem Carvers – Kwakiutl Indians.”
It may be one of the 5,000 tiny totem poles Ellen Neel and the Totem Carvers once made for the Hudson Bay Company.
Then again, it may not, since there’s no HBC logo on it anywhere.
Here’s an interesting article on totem poles of the Pacific Northwest.
There’s a book by Phil Nuytten called The Totem Carvers. This page about the book provides quite a bit of background about Neel (it also provides the reference to the 5,000 Hudson Bay Company totems).
UPDATE: In the comments, Lou-ann Neel, Granddaughter of Ellen Neel, posts, “This is definitely NOT an Ellen Neel carving. The ‘design’ work is completely incorrect and clearly that of an amateur. “
That’s interesting, since it’s definitely stamped with her name. Presumably, then, it was a cheap counterfeit someone sold to try to take advantage of Ellen Neel’s name.
I’d love to see an image of one of those Hudson Bay Company totems, though, just to compare. Anyone?
I have been poking around looking to identify a little totem I found years ago on Vancouver Island.
It has a little paper label on the back that explains the pole and says Alert Bay but not a stamp like many have. The Thunderbird over Grizzly is the same.
The curved stamp reads Ellen Neel & the totem carvers. The link I posted talks about her recruiting family members to help in the “production”.
The quality of these little totems varies greatly but they are all special.
Ellen Neel sold many similar totems in Stanley Park, rather than thru HBC.
The marking on your item is typical of later work; by that time, her children, not skilled artists, were also involved, and Neel had learned to “dumb down” her work, using incorrect form-lines, in order to simplify them so they could be sold more cheaply. I have totems that look this “bad” but bear what is clearly Neel’s signature. Neel knew the forms were not really right; but it was more important to her that she be able to feed her family. On her larger totems, she always used more correct forms, for a larger selling price.(My information comes from one of Neel’s daughters)
That’s interesting, since it’s definitely stamped with her name. A counterfeit? Somebody trying to take advantage of her fame?
Thanks for the comment!
This is definitely NOT an Ellen Neel carving. The ‘design’ work is completely incorrect and clearly that of an amateur.
Lou-ann Neel, Granddaughter of Ellen Neel