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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Carving out a family’s vision

Darren Nipp, of Post Falls, helps other members of Kindred Concierge Services erect a 24-foot totem pole at a lakefront home south of Coeur d'Alene on Tuesday.

Last year, a windstorm blew over a giant ponderosa pine, which landed on an old totem pole that stood on a sandy beach south of Coeur d’Alene.

The pole wasn’t just a piece of artwork from a noted Inland Northwest woodcarver; it was an heirloom and a sentinel of summer for generations of a family that had spent summers at a home on the Mica Bay beach.

DeDe Brown Keating and her brothers have tried their best to preserve the lakeshore retreat built nearly 60 years ago by their parents, T.C. and Dorothy Brown. They’ve kept the same turquoise trim and even plant the same color of geraniums each spring.

“We’re big into family traditions,” said Keating, who spends summers at the lake and colder months in Santa Rosa, Calif.

The totem pole needed to rise again, she said. But finding a totem pole carver isn’t as easy as matching the hue of flowers.

Enter Dan Donley, an artist, carpenter, gunsmith and organic garlic farmer from Danville, Wash. Donley was showing some of his American Indian-inspired wood carvings last year at a gallery on the other side of Lake Coeur d’Alene in Harrison, Idaho. That’s when he met Keating’s neighbors and learned of the smashed totem pole.

Donley had carved about 20 totems, but most were no taller than a man. He agreed to the challenge of trying to replicate the old pole.

“If you’re an artist, you do what’s in your area,” Donley said. “We do totems.”

The original totem had been carved by Micheal M. Paul, of the Colville Confederated Tribes. Paul, now deceased, was born in 1936 in Inchelium, Wash., and left a deep mark in Spokane and across the Inland Northwest as an artist and educator. In 1966, he started the city’s first Indian education program. He later worked at schools across the West.

In the early 1980s, a totem pole carved by Paul was purchased at a Coeur d’Alene gallery by Keating’s mother, Dorothy.

“She knew where its home should be,” Keating said.

Re-creating the pole took 400 hours of chain-sawing, grinding, sanding and painting. Donley used paint chips from the smashed pole to create a perfect match. The price tag: about $15,000.

The new pole went vertical Tuesday morning. Nine men from Kindred Concierge Services, of Coeur d’Alene, used ropes and gallons of sweat to hoist into place the 24-foot, half-ton tower of red cedar.

The job took several hours and left both the artist and the homeowner wearing grins almost as wide as the eagle, wolf and bear carved into the pole.

“I’m thrilled, absolutely thrilled,” Keating said, gazing at the bright new totem pole standing again on the beach. “Dan just did a fabulous job. We’re very honored he took on the project.”