Bringing the William Shelton story pole home

October 15, 2013
Burke Museum
 Story Pole

Photo: Courtesy of the Freeport Park District

This 36-foot story pole stood prominently for nearly 70 years in Krape Park in Freeport, Illinois. It's colorful carvings represent interrelated stories hand-carved by renowned Coast Salish artist and Snohomish Tribe leader William Shelton, who began carving story poles in the early 1900s to revitalize and increase understanding of Native American culture.

William Shelton

A photograph from 1912 or 1913 shows Shelton carving.
Photo: Negative No. NA859, Ferdinand Brady Photographic Postcards PH Coll 139, University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections Division

In an earlier blog post we describe the whirlwind quarter-century where Shelton carved at least sixteen large-scale and medium-sized story poles for public display across the United States. This pole is one of them.

Unfortunately, after standing in Krape Park since 1935, Shelton's story pole eventually fell into such severe disrepair from weather and bug infestations that it had to be taken down.

Story Pole laying on the ground crumbling

Photo: Courtesy of the Freeport Park District

Eagle at the top of the story pole laying on the ground in Freeport Park District storage

Photo: Courtesy of the Freeport Park District

The Freeport Park District debated what to do with the decaying pole as it sat in their storage facility, ultimately deciding that the Burke Museum's large Northwest Coast collection, expertise, and connection to the artist's region made the Burke the ideal place to send the pole.

We wanted to help bring the pole home, but transporting it nearly 2,000 miles across the country presented a significant obstacle. With the support of generous donors, we raised funds to transport the pole in a forty-foot-long crate from Illinois to Seattle on the back of a flatbed trailer.

Members of the Tulalip Tribes, Hibulb Cultural Center and Burke staff welcomed the Shelton story pole to the Burke Museum on March 14, 2014—including Wayne Williams, the grandson of William Shelton.

What's next for the story pole? We've had a conservator look at it and estimate the cost of repairs and we'll likely do additional fundraising in the future to restore this important piece of history.

A group of people stand next to the Shelton pole which is exposed in a crate

Wayne Williams (seated in front), the grandson of William Shelton, with several members of the Tulalip Tribes, Hibulb Cultural Center and Burke staff.

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