Let The Carving Begin .. pace Deportation Orders!
The Project That Must Be Meant to Succeed!
If ever there was a project that was designed to test the resilience of its perpetrators, the Prestoungrange Totem Pole must be up there amongst the winners. And if ever there is a fiendish test devised by the world's monstrous regiment of nay-sayers, then it must forever include questions on the virtues of unlimited reservoirs of persistence called upon to allow the Prestoungrange Totem Pole to be carved. So what is this project that seems to attract myriad obstacles simply by existing in the mind let alone actually 'being' carved? How was it to be that not only the outcome totem pole but also the entire process of getting it ready to raise could be forever seen as proper testimony to the originating Spirit of Chemainus ?
Honouring All Chemainus Has Given to Small Towns Around The World
The Prestoungrange Totem Pole is being created as a tribute to the people of Chemainus in the artistic traditions of its original peoples, the Cowichan tribe. It is a tribute to be ceremonially 'raised' on the occasion of the 6th Biennial Conference of the Global Association for Murals Art and Cultural Tourism to be held in Prestonpans on August 18th. But why?
In the 1980s Chemainus was a small town on Vancouver Island [not even shown on the local map] that was under threat of closure of its sole employer, a saw mill. Faced with such imminent disaster one man, Karl Schutz, resolved to persuade the town to paint its history on its walls to attract tourists. The naysayers said he was mad; maybe, but yet he was also right! In 2005 Chemainus is on the map attracting 400,000+ visitors each year with an Arts Festival Theatre, a 100 Suites Best Western and has some 60 committed 'imitators' around the world in the Global Association - of which Karl Schutz is President.
Prestonpans is just one of those members, has been since 2000. Prestonpans has taken the original Chemainus notion and emulated and interpreted it for what was a small town dependent on its coal industry - which closed in the 1960s. And having participated at the Global Association's international meetings, most particularly in Moosejaw, Saskatchewan in 2002, Prestonpans was invited to convene the 6th Biennial Conference in 2006. The response was of course: "Yes we will"; and then later: "Let's Honour the Occasion with a Totem Pole".
Chemainus Provided the Pole and Prestoungrange Arts Festival is Responsible for its Carving
The pole itself, or rather 40' log at the initial stages, was donated by the people of Chemainus and shipped to Scotland by rail and sea container. It was stored at Wintoun House and St Joseph's over the winter and then destined to be carved at either St Joseph's School Workshops or The Prestongrange Heritage Museum. The Prestoungrange Arts Festival had full responsibility for seeing it carved and to this end enlisted the help of veteran Scottish carver Kenny Grieve and two First Nation Canadian Indians, Xwa Lack Tun and Tawx'sin Yexwullo [alias Splash]. Its eventual carving 'location' has however turned out to be the Prestoungrange Gothenburg car park, and very appropriate too with some 300 visitors and over one hundred helpers young and old taking their turn to carve a little here and there as the grand design unfolded.
So what of those Naysayers? It all sounds like fun and a big success
Well, its a long and potentially exhausting tale [which will be captured anon by the Poet Laureate no doubt from its very beginnings and including the log's impounding at the docks pending fumigation on arrival in Scotland] but in essence there were two pivotal 'carving' moments. The first was more surprising than the second.
At Glasgow Airport on arrival Xwa Lack Tun and Tawx'sin Yexwullo were threatened with deportation since they had no proper work permits. None had ever been asked for in the past 5 years or hitherto expected. Appeals to the Immigration Service went unheeded for nigh on a week. Eventually Viscount John Thurso, Liberal Democrat MP at Westminster for Caithness and one already familiar with totem poles in his constituency, intervened and persuaded Tony McNulty, Home Office Minister for Immigration, to allow the carvers to stay to complete their work.
Ah yes, but could they do it safely since, although amongst the world's leading carvers, Lack Tun and Splash were not in possession of a Certificate of Competence in Chain Saw Use! As far as East Lothian Council were concerned, that was the end of the matter. They formally withdrew from their 'partnership' in the project which was implicit in agreeing initially that carving could take place at St Joseph's and/ or The Museum. They did more. They expressed "grave doubts" about the project as conceived if we were to continue.
Taking note of the Council's multiple risk assessed concerns, and their perceived gravity, we proceeded as depicted below until the carved pole was carried away to its painting studio at Prestoungrange's East Lodge by Preston Athletic's youngsters, a team The Prestoungrange Gothenburg is proud to sponsor. As can be seen many joined in the fun throughout the process, and the carvers shared darkened skies and wonderful sunsets.
Published Date: March 30th 2006