Artist brings attention to Ames with towering totem pole


For the Recorder

AMES -- As you turn onto Shunk Road in Ames, the scenery is pleasant enough, yet it looks like any other local country road. That is, until you reach 168 Shunk Road, the home of Alan and Lorie Suits. On the left hand side of the road, just across from the Suits residence, stands a towering ode not only to artist Lorie's beloved friends and family, but to art, and the enduring history and legacy of New York State.

Lorie has carved, with a chisel and mallet, an 18 foot high totem pole. The towering creation was carved and painted over the period of March to July, 2012, after Alan found a 23 foot tree that had fallen over in the woods across the street, which he then transported home, removing the bark so that Lorie could begin working.

On average, Lorie spent three hours a day first carving the totem pole, then painting it, which she noted took almost as long as the carving, as she was careful to get each color and detail exactly right. The totem pole's individual sections had to remain distinct, yet blend so that the pole looked like one full piece.

It was Lorie's original goal to adorn the totem pole with carvings of animals native to New York State. It was later that the idea came to research the significance of the animals she aimed to represent, matching their attributes to the characteristics of people in her life.

The bear, signifying strength and protection, was carved for Alan. The Bald Eagle, a symbol of power, wisdom and bravery, was carved for Lorie's father, while the Brook Trout, signifying prosperity and fortune, was carved for her mother. The Suits' 91-year-old neighbor, Hilda, made it into the piece as the Karner Blue Butterfly, signifying change and rebirth. Local friend- and teacher-to-all Doug Ayres is represented by the Beaver, signifying hard work, teaching and wisdom.

The totem pole, which was carved from top to bottom, received gold leaf detailing on animal beaks and claws -- a process Lorie called "meticulous", as the leaf is "papery thin and fragile". The wings of the bald eagle were then installed with help from Alan.

When the project -- which Lorie noted has not been her biggest, or most in-depth undertaking, as she has carved numerous, detailed merry-go-round horses and created marvelously detailed Indian regalia, featuring rawhide and bones -- was complete, Lorie and Alan hired locals Gordy Pitcher and Varnum Casler to dig a five foot hole. The pole was then lowered into the ground using a crane.

The reaction to the pole, said Lorie, has been very satisfying. She's excited to see people sitting on the rock in front of the pole, viewing it, reading the description she's placed at the bottom, discussing it. According to neighbor, Hilda, the totem pole -- a truly unique conversation starter -- has become an instant Ames "landmark."