The Healing Pole
A totem pole carved in Monterey brings solace to children on the other side of the country.
Thursday, November 14, 2002
This is the story of a healing pole, carved in Monterey County by youth artists and shipped to the Bronx Zoo in New York City. It''s the story of two young men from Seaside, along with many other young carvers who crafted the pole. It''s a story linked to World War II, terrorism, Alaska, spiritual faith and simple dreams. It''s the story of a tree-and you can watch it this Saturday at 6pm on KQED-TV.
The tree started out in Alaska around 900 AD, a tall yellow cedar cut down a century ago for its strength and its size, and brought all the way to Port Chicago in the San Francisco Bay, where it was used to build a naval pier. In 1944, a ship containing tons of gunpowder exploded at the pier, destroying it and killing over 300 men. The cedar logs supporting the pier were salvaged, and years later a group called Protect All Life adopted ten of the logs for use as healing poles-totems to forgiveness, healing and peace.
Enter Joseph Werner, executive director of the Monterey County Workforce Investment Board. His agency sponsors the One Voice Arts and Leadership Program, which employs at-risk youth to paint murals throughout Monterey County. Two years ago, Werner got a philanthropist to purchase one of the $15,000 poles at a reduced price, and send it to a warehouse at the former Fort Ord. There it was carved by hand with beautiful images of endangered species, with the idea that it would someday be shipped to a place in need of solace.
Werner has lots to say about the beauty and inspiration that the visual arts bring to the lives of those involved in them. Werner is blind, yet he sees more clearly than most people the effect art has on human beings, and he devotes an enormous amount of energy to putting his beliefs into action."We believe that healing and forgiveness are really important," he says.
The notion of a large number of people choosing to seek comfort in a big log might sound hokey, until one considers the good this log has already created in the lives of those who worked on it.
Take James and Demetrious, for example. To listen to them is to hear about the healing, life-changing effect of art. These two young men express their amazement at how their work on the pole changed them, opening their eyes to the opportunities in the world around them. Of One Voice, and the One Stop Career Center (also a part of Monterey Country Workforce Investment) 18-year-old James says. "They''re preparing youth for life." Of his work with the project, 20-year-old Demetrious maintains, "Basically, they''ve given me a reason to live." When they entered the program, neither of them were particularly interested in their own futures-just in getting a quick job. Now James lists all his potential career options (car mechanic, wood carver, carpenter) and Demetrious wants to go to college.
The act of taking a cedar pole and carving it themselves somehow gave them direction. Over the course of seven weeks, they and other Monterey County youth worked together with a master carver from New Zealand to make this huge pole a thing of beauty. It was completed long before anyone knew where it would end up, but after the 9/11 attack on New York, the choice became clear. The Bronx Zoo was chosen, and the pole was erected, at New York City expense, at a spot where it can be seen from the nearby highway.
The healing pole has brought comfort to people on both sides of the country-those who worked on it, those who dedicated it (firemen''s hands from seven California counties were carved into it) and those who received it. The Bronx Zoo has promised to maintain it as long as the zoo itself exists, ensuring that this healing pole will work its stuff on people for many years to come.
Other healing poles have been suggested for Pearl Harbor, Nagasaki and South Africa. One is already planned for Monterey County, as a show of solidarity with the people of New York.
The Healing Pole video, shot by Jules Hart of Eye Goddess Productions and produced by Joseph Werner, will be aired 11/16 at 6pm on KQED-TV.