Haines master carver unveils carving honoring veterans

Master carver Wayne Price carved two totem poles and a screen for the Soboleff McRae Veterans Village and Wellness Center in Haines. (Abbey Collins)

Tlingit master carver Wayne Price is well-known for his art in Alaska. He’s carved close to 40 totems that stand throughout Southeast. But until recently, none of Price’s totems stood in Haines, where he lives. Art created for the local veteran’s village changes that.

Listen now

The Chilkat Dancers of Klukwan and the Dei-shu Dancers and sing, dance and drum as they make their way toward a towering structure – two healing totem poles and a screen. They enter to a song Price calls ‘Knocking at the Door.’

A big crowd turned out to watch Price reveal his latest piece of art. A mix of locals and veterans in town for the Alaska American Legion Convention gathered outside a veterans housing complex in Haines.

“I’ve been an artist and carver for 45 years,” Price said. “And I want to tell you the story of what this screen means.”

Price stood in front of the piece, speaking to the crowd of onlookers.

The 12 ft. tall healing totems and 8 ft. screen tower over Price. He said he worked with veterans in nearby Klukwan to come up with the design.

“Artistic interpretation of warrior spirit screen. With raven dog salmon and eagle wolf totem poles,” Price said.

The Haines Assisted Living board commissioned the piece for the veteran’s village and wellness center. The village is named after Walter Soboleff and Howard McRae. Price says their clans are represented in the art. Raven Dog Salmon is the clan of Soboleff, Eagle Wolf the clan of McRae.

Price walked through the meaning of the screen, starting right in the middle.

“The warrior spirit is in the center,” Price said. “Honors our men and women who have served the United States of America in the military. With eyes focused on all veterans, including U.S. prisoners or war, those missing in action, and those who have sacrificed their life for freedom.”

Price said that is where a healing spirit sits.

“Radiating healing energies from its hands heart and mind to the human heart and minds of all veterans,” Price said.

Price moved on to the second circle.

“The second holding circle is raven and eagle,” Price said. “In the Tlingit tradition they represent the balance of the people. They hold the eye of the ancestors watching over us. They are the communities that the veterans come from and sacrifice for. The outer circle is a traditional native circle of red, yellow, black and white. It represents the medicine wheel in the four directions.”

Price turned over ownership of the work in a customary carver’s dance. He danced to the Mandarin Song, holding the traditional hatchet-like tool he used to carve the screen and totems.

“I’m going to dance with this adze,” Price said. “And at the completion of this song, I release title.”

Ted Hart danced and sang throughout the ceremony.

“All people, black, white, red and yellow all serve the same,” Hart said in both Tlingit and English. “Thank you for helping. We are grateful for you. I hope these poles and screen bring peace and harmony to our vets just as they will bring balance to our community.”

American Legion National Commander Charles Schmidt thanked Price and the Haines community.

“This is a beautiful sign and a reminder of what takes place on these grounds here,” Schmidt said. “The wellness facility to honor veterans. Veterans who have served this country. We will never forget their service and their sacrifice.”

Haines veteran Jim Shook said Price’s work is meaningful to local veterans.

“You know Haines has the highest per capita number of veterans in the state,” Shook said. “This is quite an honor as many of the veterans are of Tlingit origin.”

Price said there’s a lot of emotion in moving on from a major piece of work like this one. But outside the veterans village, for the first time, his healing artwork is not too far from his home in Haines.

Previous articleAlyssa London to showcase Tlingit design at Miss USA pageant
Next articleFairbanks North Star Borough looks to address F-35 deployments on community