Artists: George Sibley/ Barbara Kotz Sibley/ Denny McNeill/ Bill Folger/ Jim McKay/ Jim Cazer
Location: Totem Pole Park, 3rd and Maroon
Medium: Wood (from a 30-foot spruce tree felled near Lake Irwin)
Many would agree that there is no more iconic piece of public art in Crested Butte than the Totem Pole that reigns over the park that bears its name. It holds the honor of being the first collaborative public art project in town, thanks to the beer-inspired vision of local woodcrafter Denny McNeill and George Sibley, the then-director of the Crested Butte Arts Festival. The year was 1973. Sibley wanted to steer the festival in the direction of ‘interactive art’. What could be more appropriate than six chainsaw-wielding carvers, each responsible for a five-foot section of spruce log? None had plans or sketches, just an agreement to finish in six days for the opening of the Arts Fest. Sure enough, more collaboration took place on August 12th, when a crew of ‘bare-chested, long-haired’ hippies raised the pole on the banks of Coal Creek.
A troll, mushroom, buffalo head (originally fitted with tree branch horns), turtle, and even rumored caricatures of Sibley and President Nixon were some of the inspired, if not completely recognizable, carvings. The artists thought it would last five years or so, and be, according to McNeill, ‘something fun for everyone to look at’. Little did the woodworkers know that the totem would endure to become one of Town’s most beloved icons. The pole was lifted, re-oiled, and trimmed down (due to rotting wood) in June of 2006, with hopes that the extra love would buy another few decades at least. It has overseen generations of Crested Buttians and visitors alike…picnicking, napping, wading in the creek, and who knows what else. It’s been the backdrop for countless ceremonies, including weddings and memorials, the infamous Alley Loop Nordic race, and the Bridges of the Butte fundraiser. Though there’s been talk that the next generation of inhabitants might need to carve their own totems, it will certainly mark the end of an era the day the Totem Pole comes down.
This information was gleaned from the excellent article ‘A Tribe and Its Totem’ written by Sandra Cortner in the Summer 2010 issue of the Crested Butte Magazine. It can be found at www.issuu.com.