The Garden Home Totem Pole, by Andrew Gorman

[Editor: Many of you who have lived in Garden Home since the 1990s will remember the surprising totem pole standing in the shrubs at the NW corner of SW 82nd and Garden Home Road. Unfortunately it gradually deteriorated in our damp weather, until it completely fell apart this year. Andrew Gorman, the owner who lived in the adjacent home, wrote this memoir before he moved. It is a loving salute to his stepfather and the history of the wonderful totem pole. It’s also a commentary on how family interests and history propel one to engage in totem pole activities.]

I appreciate your interests in my totem pole; however there is no historical value to it except to me and my family. This was the last totem pole that my step father had made as a hobby before he and my mother were killed in an air accident September 5, 1981. My step father (Monte Stookey) and my mother Sharon were married sometime during the summer of 1976.

As best as I can remember, it was during the summer of 1979 when they took kind of a delayed honeymoon or a cruise up the “Inland Passage of Alaska” (mind you; I was probably 13 at this time). My father was #3 in command of the “Kinzua Plywood Mill” in Heppner, Oregon. He grew up in Baker, Oregon, did a stint in the US Navy during the late 1950s and early 60s (he was a radar operator). He was also a decorated marksman and was promoted to give pistol shooting demonstrations for specific military shows and or exhibitions.”

Monte married his first wife Linda and started their family, having two boys and two girls. During this time, Monte was employed in several mills during the 1960’s up to the early 70’s. He took night classes at some Community College and earned a degree in Management which eventually led him to be the Operations Superintendent for the Kinzua Corporation.

Okay, with all of this being said; my mom’s father, Orvile Cutsforth, was a prominent rancher and wheat farmer since the 1920’s in Morrow County for many years. During the 1950’s he and his wife Barbara donated several acres to Morrow County to make a County Park up in the Blue Mountains for people to have a recreational area. The County named it “Cutsforth’s Park.”

At one time; before I can remember, my grandfather built a totem pole himself and painted it. It was erected across the street from the county park and stood there for nearly 50 years. Okay, now obviously when Monte was dating my mother, he had noticed and seen this totem pole many times over the years.

While Sharon and Monte went on their delayed honeymoon, aka vacation, they saw and took many photographs from the cruise boat that they were on. Of course they got various chances to go ashore to take in the local cultures and take more pictures.

Once they received the pictures back from their vacation; Mom and Monte spent some time going through these pictures. My mother, being very organized, put these photos in albums. Monte said that he might like to try his hand at carving a totem pole. Father’s Day was just around the corner, I heard him say this which gave me the idea of a perfect gift for him. Even though I was a young teenager at the time, I would make extra dollars for spending money by mowing yards and doing odd jobs around town.

We had a “Coast to Coast Store” in town and I went there one day and spoke to the owner, Mr. Dick Sargent. I told him the story how Monte was interested in maybe trying to carve a totem pole and that I needed his help in helping pick out a set of chisels for him. Mr. Sargent was quite interested in what I was doing and took the time to lead me to his tool selection and suggested that a set of 3 chisels might be the best. This turned out to be a great gift for him. He hugged me and thanked me, then he went and got a yellow tablet and his pictures from their cruise and started drawing some ideas; combining various different pictures or parts of various totem poles that they saw (perhaps some original ideas as well?).

According to Wikipedia:

Totem poles are monumental sculptures, a type of Northwest Coast art, consisting of poles, posts or pillars, carved with symbols or figures. They are usually made from large trees, mostly western red cedar, by indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest coast of North America (northwestern United States and Canada’s western province, British Columbia). The word totem derives from the Algonquian (most likely Ojibwe) word odoodem [o’tuitsm], “his kinship group”. The carvings may symbolize or commemorate cultural beliefs that recount familiar legends, clan lineages, or notable events. The poles may also serve as functional architectural features, welcome signs for village visitors, mortuary vessels for the remains of deceased ancestors, or as a means to publicly ridicule someone. Given the complexity and symbolic meanings of totem pole carvings, their placement and importance lies in the observer’s knowledge and connection to the meanings of the figures.

Totem pole carvings were likely preceded by a long history of decorative carving, with stylistic features borrowed from smaller prototypes. Eighteenth-century explorers documented the existence of decorated interior and exterior house posts prior to 1800; however, due to the lack of efficient carving tools, sufficient wealth, and leisure time to devote to the craft, the monumental poles placed in front of native homes along the Pacific Northwest coast probably did not appear in large numbers until the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. Trade and settlement initially led to the growth of totem pole carving, but governmental policies and practices of acculturation and assimilation sharply reduced totem pole production by the end of nineteenth century. Renewed interest from tourists, collectors, and scholars in the 1880s and 1890s helped document and collect the remaining totem poles, but nearly all totem pole making had ceased by 1901. Twentieth-century revivals of the craft, additional research, and continued support from the public have helped establish new interest in this regional artistic tradition.

Another thing I guess you need to know is that my stepfather designed a plan to build an octagon log house. We spent over a year sawing peeler poles using a chain saw to rip the poles on two sides to make the logs flat on 2 sides. We built the log octagon house in 1978 -1979 in Heppner. It can be seen from Hwy 207 between the Mill and the Heppner Golf Course. It was quite an undertaking and all of the kids helped our step father build our new home. Needless to say, Monte was pretty handy with hand tools and obviously he was exploring his artistic abilities.

As I recall, one weekend day, Mom and Monte loaded up some of kids in the pickup and we took off towards the mountain in search of a tree or log that he thought would be fitting for him to work on. I believe we got the tree from one of my grandfather’s mountain properties. Monte cut a couple of 3 or 4 foot logs out of the tree or downed log that he had found and all of us rolled, pushed, and pulled to help him lift these heavy pieces in the that back of the pickup.

After getting home: We kicked these logs out of the back of the pickup next to our existing wood pile. Monte went to his shop and got a draw knife which he used to debark and scale the log down to bare wood. From there he stood the log up on its end and studied it from various different angles, looking how the knots or limbs that had been bucked off; looked and how they could fit with what he had drawn. After he selected the work area or portion of the log that he thought would work or fit his needs, he took his pencil and started drawing his outline. Now, I have no idea of the time it took to do all of this, I can remember my step father using a small chain saw to start cutting the lines he had traced and deciding on the depths and widths of cuts as he was using his imagination to try and make his drawings or carvings come to life; sort of speak. From then on, he sat on the log and straddled it as he used a mallet and the chisels that I had got him to do more intricate work.

Keep in mind, that he is not really making a totem pole at this time; rather he is making a short wood carving that could be used as a “carved figure, effigy, icon, image, sculpture, statuary.” Monte ended up making 6 or 8 of these short wooden carvings on various short logs that he had acquired. He painted some of them, and he also used a torch to burn the wood to darken the grain of the wood and then he would also use some kind of urethane, shellac or some other kind of preservative product purchased from a local hardware store to make his art shine and to preserve the wood.

After making these 6 or 8 “figurines” he decided to try or attempt to make his first totem pole. As I recall his first one about 8′ long or tall. My grandfather who lived across the pasture from us, frequently came over for visits, and to check up on Monte’s activities. I’m not sure how far along Monte had gotten into his first or second totem pole, but my grandfather who was retired and fooled around with his own various projects, had recently just finished building a small lake up in the mountains with his old farm D-2 Caterpillar dozer. Grandpa Orville decided that he knew of a spring up above the small lake that he had just built that fed the lake with additional fresh water would make the perfect source to feed a fountain. He had traveled overseas back in the 1950’s and 60’s and saw fountains which gave him further ideas.

The owners of the Kinzua Mill approached Monte. They had built a new golf course just out of Fossil,Oregon. They wanted Monte to build them a totem pole to welcome people as they came to play golf. All in all, I believe Monte built 5 totem poles between 1979 and 1981. Of course this includes the 6 smaller wooden carvings that were to be put on porches to use as decorative art to greet people as friends and relatives came to visit. He did display them at the local Morrow County Fair one time. He won blue ribbons in the art class.

Sadly, Sharon and Monte Stookey were killed in a small aircraft accident Sept 5, 1981. There was no will found. Monte had 4 children previously and my mother had Mike and I from a previous marriage. So when the estate was being settled, we kids had to buy various items that we wanted and the funds were placed back into the estate for later distribution to us kids.

In 1989 Patsy and I purchased the house on 82nd avenue I think it was during the summer of 1990 or maybe 1991 that I decided to bring the totem pole that my step father had made which I had stored in my Uncle Pat’s old chicken house on the family farm for the past 10 years. My best friend from high school and I dug a hole out on the corner of the property large enough to hold a 55 gallon drum.

Learning from a previous pole carving, I decided to drill a 2 inch hole up the bottom of the totem pole about 4 feet and inserted a 2 foot galvanized pipe. Steve and I purchased a pallet of concrete and mixed it all and poured it into the barrel and placed an 8′ long 2″ galvanized pipe in the center. This would act as the stand for the totem pole so it would never fall or hurt anyone. I was quite concerned with this idea as the kids catch the school bus near it.

Before the concrete had dried or hardened, I wrote in the mud: Below this slab lies my family fortune. He he he. My biological father, Jim Gorman came over to help Steve and I erect the totem pole. I guess I was about 27 or so at this time. Of course my stepson Jeremy Rutherford and his cousin Zeb Cummings were here helping us as well. My father enjoyed this as he was now “The Grandpa in charge!”

I had gone to Power Rents and rented a fork lift to manage the weight and lifting of the totem pole. My father being a lifetime horse trainer rigged the totem pole and fork lift with various thick ropes so we could handle and hold the totem pole. Now trying to get everything set right so we could line the hole in the bottom of the totem pole with the pipe was a bit tricky. We eventually got it done and all of the time creating a traffic jam from rubber neckers who were wondering just what in the world was we doing? Ha ha ha.

Later I got my neighbor, Corey Gates; the electrician to wire me a light out on the corner of the property to shine up on the totem pole. The neighbors all gave me great compliments because I guess they all used that totem pole as a land mark when giving driving instructions to their friends and family to find their homes.

Basically, I put this totem pole up in honor of my stepfather: Monte Stookey. He taught me how to work hard and to appreciate a lot of things. It was through his various projects that I learned many of the skills that I have today. It is not every one who was lucky enough to have had a father such as him. The unfortunate thing about this whole story is that I took an eastern Oregon tree to Portland and erected it without knowing or having the knowledge of how to preserve it from the extreme wet conditions we have here in Portland. The totem pole began to rot out from the top down and has deteriorated rapidly. When I noticed or learned of this, I was ashamed of myself for not having the foresight to have found a way to prevent this from happening. All I could do was to go ahead and let the big cedar tree and holly over grow the totem pole.

On a side note: Once I had Corey put the light up to shine on the totem pole, every once in a while there would be various groups of people out by the totem pole bowing and praying to it. This made Patsy and I nervous. I went outside to talk to those folks a few different times to explain that there was nothing spiritual or authentic about it. It was very odd, how one guy told me that he could read and interpret the art. Personally, I think the guy was on drugs!

Over the past 36 years, pictures and albums from our childhood have been redistributed, lost, water damaged and split up between us 6 kids. It’s a bummer but a fact of life to learn from for the future. I’m not sure what you plan to do with this information. But now you have the rest of the story. Thank you for your interest,

Andrew J. Gorman

August 3, 2019: Andrew Gorman interview and permission to use this memoir. Andrew originally wrote this memoir to Marie Pacella, a neighbor on the street. Elaine Shreve has edited the memoir briefly for clarity.

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