Century-old cedar totems to honor native woodcarver at Seattle Center "carve-in"

Mar 15, 2011

An ancient cedar tree was delivered earlier today (Tuesday) to the Seattle Center. Several totem poles carved from it in public will commemorate the life and art of native carver John T. Williams.

His shooting by a Seattle police officer last August has escalated tensions between law enforcement and people of color. But Williams' family says the "carve-in" that has just begun is about remembering his cultural legacy. 

John T. Williams' works are displayed at the White House, in galleries across the world and at the Smithsonian.  And now it will be celebrated in a plaza at Seattle Center, just north of the Space Needle. 

A blessing from the native community kicked off what the late John T. Williams' brother Rick says is a carve-in action that will go on for at least six months.

"You know, I am a determined carver, so I'll be on it every day from 7 to 6 every day.  I can't speak to the rest of them….I'm going to put my heart and soul into it and let 'em know that, with this native heart beat, that this is all for the love of my brother." 

He beamed with joy as he led other carvers beginning the project.  He says anyone who wants to watch is welcome.

During the ceremony, he embraced a police officer and reiterated his family's forgiveness for the shooting.  He says they don't want to be associated with anarchist groups who have been arrested protesting about it. 

They do want the community to remember his brother as the master carver that he was – and not the inebriation that is so often mentioned with his name. 

The tree comes from Harstine Island in Mason County, near Shelton.  It was donated by the Manke Lumber company.  The loggers who donated it estimate its age to be at least 120 years.