Chief Scow's House

Chief Johnny Scow's Sea Monster House. C.F. Newcombe, 1900

This brightly painted house at Gwayasdums village belonged to Chief John Scow. The house was erected around the year 1900 and depicts the face of a sea monster.

The sea monster design is traditionally the property of the ‘Namgis tribe but the privilage of displaying this crest was transferred to Chief Scow after his marriage to a ‘Namgis woman.

"According to my grandparents, a long time ago the Sea Monster Numkalagyu emerged from the bottom of the sea in Blackfish Sound. He came to shore and helped found a group of people called 'Namgis. In order to portray what he had seen in his travels and the supernatural powers he obtained, this ancestor used the Sea Monster design on his house. Ever since that time, only people of the 'Namgis tribe and certain in-laws have had the privilege of using this design" (Chief Bill Scow, 1981).

At the entry to the house stands a pole with Scow's principle crests. It depicts a whale with an ancestor on its back and a raven between its tail flukes. This pole was the second pole that Mungo Martin ever carved.

It was Kwakwaka’wakw artists like Mungo Martin, Charley James, Arthur Shaughnessy and Willie Seaweed who kept carving traditions active when the Canadian government prohibited the potlatch ceremony in 1885. The potlatch is a ceremony that validates the status of high ranking families and is often accompanied by a totem pole raising. Events of this kind were largely practiced in secret until the ban was lifted in 1951.

Scow House, Edward Curtis, 1914
Scrow's House, Sam Barrett, 1915

This is another view of the Sea Monster house and entry pole at Gwayasdums. This picture was taken around 1915 before the house facade was torn down and rebuilt as Raven House. This picture shows the weathering of the paint on the housefront and the deteriorating state of the housefront itself.

The entry pole to the Sea Monster House is now in the Convention Centre in Seattle Washington. It is part of the John Hauberg collection which was gifted to the Seattle Art Museum.

Scow's House Photo by C.F. Newcombe, 1917
Scow's House Photographer unknown, ca. 1917

By 1915 Scow had become a widower and married a noble Heiltsuk woman. The old Sea Monster House was torn down and was reconstructed on the exact same spot. Similar to the crest of the Sea Monster, included in his new wife’s dowry was the Raven image painted on the new structure (seen above). As the pictures show, the frontal pole was kept  but moved to the side of the house.

Below, are the interior poles of Chief Scow's House. These poles were carved by Arthur Shaughnessy and were moved from Gwayasdums to the the Pacific Science Centre in Seattle where a replica of Scow's Sea Monster House was built around them. The poles are now at the Seattle Art Museum and the the replica of the Sea Monster House is at the Burke museum in Seattle.

Scow's rear interior poles. Photo © B. Herem
Scow's front interior poles. Photo © B. Herem