Local Totem Carver Shares Meaning at Shorebird Festival

Local Totem Carver Shares Meaning at Shorebird Festival

Photos and words by Eden McCall. On a sunny spring morning in mid-April, Mike Webber applies a deep cedar-toned stain to finish the second of two totem poles. After months spent designing, carving and sanding, within minutes, the stain seals the wood, preparing the pole for Cordovan weather and accentuating the distinctive beak and talons of the totem’s main character, a carved eagle. To celebrate the placement of the totems in front of the new Prince William Sound Science Center this May, Webber, a lifelong Cordovan and Alaskan Native, will share his carving process and the stories behind two prominently carved birds important in Pacific Northwest Native culture, the eagle and raven, during Shorebird Festival on May 7.


Alaskan Native carver Mike Webber

Mike Webber outlines design elements before carving another layer of the bear element on the eagle pole on April 2, 2022. After nine more days of outlining, carving and sanding, the pole will be complete. Cordova, Alaska.

Alaskan Native carver Mike Webber

Mike Webber sands the second of two totem poles he is carving for the Prince William Sound Science Center in his Cordova workshop on April 2nd, 2022. Cordova, Alaska.

“A lot of the native people are either Raven or Eagle, so to have these two poles here is going to really represent a lot of people in this town,” Webber said.

The raven and eagle, central characters on each respective pole, are family crests for two main Alaska Native communities in the Prince William Sound region. Placed in front of the new Science Center, these totem poles will symbolize the unity of the Raven and Eagle communities in Cordova

As well as representing community, the raven and eagle are also tied to stories of creation and strength. During his presentation in the Cordova Center, Webber will share these stories as well as the meaning of other elements carved on the poles including an octopus, bear, humpback salmon and a variety of shapes called ovoids.

totem features eagle

On the finished eagle pole, ovoids appear on the bird’s wings. “Ovoids represent moving parts like arms, ankles, shoulders, knees, wings, those kinds of things,” carver Mike Webber says. April 11, 2022. Cordova, Alaska.

The raven and eagle poles will be placed outside the Science Center to view in time for the 32nd Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival. The festival celebrates the connectivity of nature, art and community, and it supports local artists and businesses. Registering for the festival provides access to attend Webber’s presentation from 7-7:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 7.

While describing the meanings of the carvings during his presentation, Webber will also explain the process of creating the poles and the importance of traditional woodcarving and Pacific Northwest Coast art for culture and remembrance.

“There’s not much art in this area where my grandparents are from, from Yakutat to the far side of Prince William Sound,” Webber said. “A lot of that got traded off when the fur traders were here in the 1800s.”

Since carving his first piece 22 years ago, Webber has created commissioned wood carvings that have traveled as far as the Caribbean. These new totem poles, funded by the Eyak Corporation and Chugach Alaska Corporation, will be only the second set of Webber’s totem poles to stay in Cordova.

“It’s going to be very powerful for myself to see it in Cordova, and I really hope other people have that same sensation.”

totem features eagle and many other animals

The carved eagle sits on top of a bear and humpback salmon on the second totem pole Mike Webber completes on April 11, 2022. Cordova, Alaska.

Alaskan Native carver Mike Webber

“It’s exciting for me, being an artist, to do this locally and to represent the people of Cordova and the villages around,” Webber says on March 2, 2022. Cordova, Alaska.

Catch Mike Webber’s presentation along with an Introduction to the Ecology of the Copper River Delta by Erin Cooper and a presentation by Audubon Alaska, beginning at 6:00pm on May 7th, 2022 at the Cordova Center during the Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival. In-person and virtual options are available. Local rates are also available at the Festival Welcome Table at the Cordova Center.