An impressive early model totem pole by Kwakiutl master carver Charlie James (1867-1938) circa 1920. This is one of three great totem poles by this early master carver that we currently have available. This totem features a Thunderbird, human clutching a diving seal. Signed to the reverse “Charlie James ” and is in excellent original condition.
Charlie James ( 1870-1938)
Charlie James was the son of Kugwisi’la’ogwa, a Kwakiutl woman from Fort Rupert, BC, and an American sawmill owner from Port Townsend. When his mother died in 1877, he was adopted by her tribe and settled in Alert Bay BC where he inherited the right to work as a wood-carver, receiving training from a kinsman. Charlie James excelled at carving and quickly became a renowned carver of totems, ceremonial regalia and as an enterprising young man he began making in model totem poles and trade items to sell to collectors and visitors in both Victoria and Alert Bay. He was one of the first Kwakiutl wood-carvers to establish a reputation outside his own society, and he is best known for the hundreds of small totem poles he carved for sale to non-natives. He was probably the first of the Native artists t begin signing his work, which he signed both with his English name “Charlie James “and or his “Yakuglas” his Native name. He created items whether for sale or ceremonial use with care and sophistication that helped build his reputation that became legendary. James also produced traditional objects, including totem poles and masks, for use in potlatches and other Kwakiutl social events. The mask of Sisiutl, the dangerous ‘double-headed serpent’ (before 1914; Victoria, BC, Prov. Mus.; see fig.), for example, was used in the Tl?sul? (‘weasel dance’), one of the two principal ceremonial complexes in Kwakiutl society. James was instrumental in establishing what might be termed the Fort Rupert sub style of Southern Kwakiutl art, introducing new forms and the use of colour.
His famous pair of house posts he carved for chief Tlah-Co-Glass has become icons of Alert Bay and has been reproduced in print, photography and paintings. Some of most famous full size poles where moved from Alert bay and erected in Stanley Park in the 1920’s and also became famous symbols of Vancouver.
Charlie James art work is found in numerous museum collections including the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, The provincial Museum in Victoria, Museum of Natural History, NY and the Field Museum Chicago to name a few. .
Reference: The totem carvers: Charlie James, Ellen Neel, and Mungo Martin by Phil Nuytten