A totem pole being carved by David Boxley
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Totem pole carver revives dying art

Totem pole carving was once a thriving tradition passed on through the generations. But when David Boxley tried to learn the craft there was nobody left alive to teach him.

A member of the Tsimshian tribe from Alaska, he began researching the lost art, visiting museums that held examples of northwest Pacific carvings and studying the ancient designs.

Now he has an international reputation and has carved some 70 totem poles over the last three decades. The pole he has carved for an exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC is made from the trunk of a 500-year-old red cedar tree.

"A totem pole is like a sign board that says this is who lives here," he explains. "They stood in front of a particular house and announced to visitors the history of this man, this family, this clan, this tribe."