Reading the North

October 1, 2011 

My Wrangell Mountains

By Ruedi Homberger and Jon and Jona Van Zyle (University of Alaska Press, $35)

The blurb: This collection of images by Swiss photographer Ruedi Homberger captures the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve and includes sketches by illustrator Jon Van Zyle and informative text by Jona Van Zyle.

Excerpt: "Flying over Alaska and the Wrangells is like reading a best-selling mystery novel -- it's a page-turner for sure. There is always another mountain range to cross or river valley to follow. An airplane takes you farther and faster than skies and opens new horizons. The continuity and natural flow of the topography are evident from the air. As Ruedi notes, there are no actual lines across the land marking borders and boundaries: it's an open map.

"The Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains spawn the state's largest glaciers. From the air, you can view the textbooks of the three Gs -- geography, geology, and glaciology -- all spread before you. Nine mountains in the park rise above 14,000 feet, with four peaks soaring above 16,000 feet. Canada's Mount Logan climbs to 19,850 feet and is eclipsed only by Mount McKinley, known as Denali to Alaskans, which shoulders its way 20,320 feet into the sky."

Carvings and Commerce: Model Totem Poles, 1880-2010

By Michael D. Hall and Pat Glascock (University of Washington Press, $60)

The blurb: Originally an exhibit at the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon, Canada, that traced the history of model totem poles, this book chronicles that exhibit and shares those works in a volume containing more than 300 photos and illustrations.

Excerpt: "The totem pole, one of the most universally recognized forms of First Nations art, originated on North America's Northwest Coast as a monumental expression of family history and status. By depicting heraldic crests and figures from ancestral narratives, poles simultaneously advertise lineage identity, memorialize deceased chiefs, and mark specific claims to territory as well as hereditary property (tangible or otherwise). European fascination with these carvings began when they were first observed by late-eighteenth-century explorers, and has never ceased. Although both the heraldic column and carved house post pre-date the arrival of Europeans, the tall, freestanding, multi-figured post that we now recognize as 'the totem pole' flourished in the early years of the fur trade, spurred by the availability of steel tools and an influx of wealth that enhanced chiefly status displays. Starting in the 1870s, international fairs and natural history museums sponsored collecting expeditions in order to obtain the greatest ethnographic prize of the era, the full-sized totem pole, to complement their other displays of enormous things -- Egyptian and pre-Columbian stelae, and whale and dinosaur skeletons."

-- Compiled by Matt Sullivan, Anchorage Daily News

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