Freeport, Illinois — A lot of things touch our lives that sometimes bury themselves under the surface of every day conversation yet deep down, touch a special place inside all of us. A perfect example of that is with the famed Indian story pole that once graced the entrance into one of Illinois’ most treasured natural destinations, Krape Park of Freeport, Illinois.
Installed in Krape Park in 1935, the above 37-foot story pole stood prominently for nearly 70 years. 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.
During his lifetime, Shelton carved a number of story poles (often mistakenly called totem poles), very few of which still remain. From 1912, with the carving of his first story pole for the Tulalip Indian Reservation, through the point of his death in February 1938, Shelton generated at least sixteen large-scale and medium-sized story poles for public display across the United States.
Shelton sought out an innovative artistic strategy to ensure that his culture’s knowledge could be revitalized and preserved for longevity, and developed the non-traditional story pole public art form to achieve his goals.
In 2008 however, Shelton’s story pole in Freeport eventually fell into such severe disrepair from weather and bug infestations that it had to be taken down.
An article from KOMO News out of Seatle stated, “For more than 70 years a pole stood watch over a Boy Scout park in Freeport, Ill. This pole shared a story, carved in wood, of a Native American culture to those who visited the park until it was removed.”
While no longer situated in Freeport, Illinois, the Shelton story pole that once graced Krape Park does still remain, and is currently housed at the Burke Museum located in Seattle, WA. The Burke Museum says the pole now resides in a warehouse due to lack of funding and public interest to restore it.
“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.”
Robin Wright with the Burke Museum told KOMO at the time, “The bottom of it where it went into the ground is completely rotten, and other portions of the pole need some loving care”. “It’s in pretty poor condition.”
The pole was transported in a forty-foot-long crate from Illinois to Seattle on the back of a flat-bed trailer. The museum crowd sourced a fundraiser with the goal of raising $7,500 to cover the cost.
The Burke Museum did tell us donations can still be made towards the restoration of this Shelton story pole. They said donations can be made to the museum for the express purpose of only the Shelton story pole restoration also. You can contact the museum by telephone at 206-616-3962.
You can view additional photos of Shelton and the story pole that once graced Krape Park in Freeport, Illinois here.
Here is also a promo video the museum did to help raise transportation funds.