The carver and painter Frederick Alexcee, who was also known as Wiksamnen, was the son of a Tsimshian mother and Iroquois father. He lived most of his life in the village of Lax Kw’alaams (Fort Simpson or Port Simpson) and seems to have begun his artistic career by carving masks and other objects, examples of which are in the collection of the UBC Museum of Anthropology and the Royal BC Museum in Victoria. There is contradictory evidence about his training, with Marius Barbeau reporting that he received extensive training (in “Frederick Alexie, A Primitive”, Canadian Review of Music and Art, 1945) and Viola Garfield (field notebooks from Port Simpson, manuscript, Suzzallo Library, University of Washington) suggesting that he was self-taught. Certainly his paintings, of which this is one of the most important examples, suggest that his approach was the somewhat naive one of the autodidact.
The village of Lax Kw’alaams had an important cultural life during Alexcee’s youth, but like many First Nations villages, by the end of the nineteenth century it was considerably changed through the influence of Christianity and government policy, both of which prohibited traditional ceremonies. His paintings document the physical and cultural landscape of his childhood.
The raising of a pole was a momentous occasion in the life of a First Nations village. It required the mobilization of large numbers of people both to raise the pole and to celebrate the event or person the pole honoured through ceremony and witness. The enormous narrative detail of this work might make us believe that Alexcee’s work documents a specific event, but more likely this image is an amalgamation of a series of events associated with a pole raising. It should be read, as Bill McLennan and Karen Duffek have suggested, as a “visual metaphor” revealing “elements of Tsimshian iconography and oral tradition” rather than documenting a single occasion