A Welcome Figure

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The scent of cedar greets guests at the Peninsula College campus.

A chain saw rumbles in the distance followed by a faint tap, tap, tap.

Something special is happening at the school this summer.

Tribal artist Jeff Monson – of Jamestown S’Klallam and Snohomish descent – is carving a welcome figure from a 20-foot red cedar log. Upon completion, the figure will be placed at the entrance of the Peninsula College’s House of Learning Longhouse – ʔaʔkʷustəŋáw̕txʷ.

In the meantime, Monson is hand-carving the monument near the science and technology building, also known as the “M” building, next to the east entrance.

The unique project is expected to take the majority of the summer to finish. Visitors are encouraged to stop by, say hello, and watch Monson work between 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Thursday. Students, nonstudents, adults and children all are invited.

“People can watch and learn,” said Maria Pena, dean for student services.

“It was part of the vision to make this an outdoor classroom where students and community members can get involved.”

As Pena speaks, a curious student stops in front of the tent and observes Monson working.

Monson answers questions happily, all the while carving with confidence. He’s a man of few words and speaks quietly, but the twinkle in his eye lets those around him know he doesn’t take life too seriously. When people interrupt with questions and conversation, he doesn’t get upset at all.

“I’m thrilled that people can see what happens,” Monson said.

“A lot of times people look at something that’s neat but don’t know what goes into it. This way, they do.”

Monson’s journey begins
Despite his current comfort and carving talent, Monson hasn’t always been so involved in his heritage.

“Growing up I never had much exposure to cultural interests of the arts,” Monson admitted.
“It just wasn’t ‘cool.’”

Then, while in his early 30s, Monson enrolled in a beginner tool-making class – at his mother’s recommendation – that started the journey to where he is now.

“I had to do something with those tools,” he joked, “so I took a carving class.”

“My first project was a paddle and then I started going on canoe journeys, and that opened up a whole new world for me.”

Before he knew it, Monson was asked to carve the welcome figure for the longhouse – what he considers a tremendous honor.

The log was gifted for a welcome figure by the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe during the grand opening of the Longhouse. The program is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education Fund for Improvement of Postsecondary Education.

To stay tuned on Monson’s progress, stop by the college and take a look at the project in progress.

Invite a friend, bring a chair and enjoy the show.

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