Living legacy

Duke Carpenter

Photo By Josh Graham

Duke Carpenter lives in South Chico with his graying 13-year-old dog, Shorty. The interior décor of their home noticeably favors animal figurines (birds are a favorite) and handsome portraits of Native American men. Descended from famous 18th-century Cherokee Chief Attakullaculla—"The Little Carpenter"—Carpenter is an artist specializing in woodworking, jewelry and the making of sacred smoking pipes. The gray-ponytailed man is also an ex-Marine; he prominently displays both an American flag and a U.S. Marine Corps flag on the front of his house. His car’s license plate reads “AIMIAM"—a proud nod to his support of the American Indian Movement. Carpenter has been on three cross-country walks from Alcatraz to Washington, D.C., in support of Native American rights. And for several months, the soft-spoken Carpenter has been at work creating a totem pole in his front yard from a tall tree stump.

What kind of wood did you use for your totem pole?

Sequoia redwood. It was a tree that was dying because it was growing up underneath a cedar tree, so I just topped it off, and it occurred to me that it would make a perfect totem pole.

Why did you pick the hummingbird?

I’ve had several encounters with hummingbirds this year that were seemingly purposeful at times when I needed direction. The hummingbird spirit brings enlightenment and focus.

Have you seen totem poles in other areas?

I’ve been to Vancouver Island, British Columbia. I’ve studied two different types of [Pacific Northwest/B.C.] totem poles—the Haida and the Tsimshian.

Do you think this totem pole will have any powers?

I can’t think that it won’t. It’s going to have a visceral impact. That’s what it’s supposed to be about. It’s supposed to generate a feeling, an idea. And optimism—that’s the hummingbird spirit.

Have people stopped and commented?

A few. They really like it. It’s really going to be cool when I’m done. Hummingbirds are so beautiful. You know what I’d like to do? Paint it so it looks different from different angles, like a real hummingbird. You know, when you look at a ruby-throated hummingbird, you’re not seeing the actual color—you’re seeing the refraction. Ruby-throated hummingbirds have to be in the sunlight to see their ruby throat.

It’s kind of amazing that you are descended from “The Little Carpenter” and you are a woodworker …

My genetic footprint is so deep it hurts. I can’t escape it.