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Creativity in Collaboration: Structural Support for One Artist's 'Project of a Lifetime'

How Cascade Joinery helped renowned carver Felix Solomon with ‘the project of a lifetime’: creating a 38-foot totem pole that tells the story of his community, The Lummi People.

Photos: Courtesy Cascade Joinery
In celebration of SepTimber, Timber Home Living is sharing stories from members of the Timber Framers Guild. Learn more about SepTimber here!
Lummi carver Felix Solomon has undertaken the project of a lifetime. “This was something I dreamed of, but never imagined was possible,” he said on a sunny spring day in 2018. His creation, the product of his vision and inspired by the style of master carver Joe Hillaire, is a 38-foot totem pole depicting the story of Lummi from the peaks of the mountains down to the sea. Felix calls it visionary work, and it truly is: shaping the cedar timber (which weighed in at about 10,000 pounds before work began) and  drawing forth the animals and people – the spirits of the Salish people – requires eyes that can see the future and the past all together in one beautiful piece of wood.
Felix Solomon’s career as a carver, though less than two decades old, is already storied; his work has made it far beyond Whatcom County, and far beyond Washington state, to the National Museum of the Native American Indian in Washington, DC, and even overseas. Felix says he’s not in the driver’s seat for this extraordinary ride that has brought him commissions like this enormous totem pole – he credits the spirits of the elders and the master carvers who came before him. He has spent years in study, not only learning his craft, which is done exclusively by hand with the help of two other accomplished carvers, but also absorbing the history of the Lummi and studying the work and style of master carvers like Joe Hillaire, Morrie Alexander, Al Charles, and more.
You might wonder, “where does Cascade Joinery come into this picture?” A challenge of gravity, weight, and engineering emerged as the project got underway: if a totem of this size is going to be vertical, how is it raised, and then how is it stabilized and secured once it is raised?
Cascade Joinery co-founder Craig Aument cut the slots and lands at the base of the pole so it may be mounted securely, with metal rods crossing the base for additional stability. This work by Cascade Joinery, though small in the big scheme of this piece of art, provides the critical foundation for the totem pole to guarantee its ability to stand vertically but also preserves its aesthetic and the vision of the artist.

The finished work, seen here in place at the Blessing Ceremony, depicts the story of the Lummi people from the peaks of the mountains down to the sea. Cascade Joinery says they are honored to have had apart in the raising of this totem, giving it stable (and unobtrusive) roots, securing its future for generations to come.
Shared with permission from the Timber Framers Guild magazine, Scantlings. See more, and celebrate SepTimber with us!

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