Carving, as an art form, reflects the close ties all Alaska Native cultures maintain with the environment. The materials used come from the land, and the images usually represent animals, spirits or places.

Masks, used in ceremonies by all Alaska indigenous cultures, represent animals, people, birds, and fish. Carved in wood and bone, many masks are decorated with feathers, shells, and other materials.

The Iñupiaq from Alaska's Arctic region are known for their smaller carvings, frequently of animals or birds, made of ivory, whale bone, baleen and soapstone while the Yup’ik and Cup’ik of western Alaska make intricate dolls and carved miniatures representing various aspects of Yup’ik and Cup’ik life. 

Perhaps most iconic of Alaska Native carvers are the Tlingit. Their art is displayed most prominently on totem poles, but can be seen on canoes, wooden tools, ceremonial staffs, rattles, masks, boxes used for cooking and storage and screens used to divide living quarters in a house.

The Tlingit carve totems on poles for a variety of purposes. Totem poles in front of houses identify the clan’s history. Totem poles are also carved to depict stories, to commemorate an event or to honor a deceased loved one or chief.

Beginning in Ketchikan and extending north throughout many of the communities along the Inside Passage, totem art can be found in galleries and ancient totems tower among the trees and rest in museums. Sitka is home to Sitka National Historic Park, which boasts a collection of totems near the visitor center and along the walking trail. Ketchikan has the Totem Heritage Center, which houses 33 totems from Tlingit and Haida villages. The Center is a national landmark and is the largest such collection in the United States.


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