Grybow, who owns a custom framing business on 17th Street, said he
works on the totem pole when he finds time outside his normal business
hours. In addition to custom framing, the 40-year-old said he carves
personalized baby cradles and other things out of teak. His reputation in
that industry garnered the attention of Scott Robinson of Santa Ana.
Robinson, who hired Grybow to build the totem pole, said he decided
one day that "it would be kind of cool to put a totem pole in the
The 16-foot Santa Ana version has only two divisions -- the Eagle Claw
house and the beaver -- and is considered art rather than ancestral
Robinson knew he wanted something from a tribe in the northwest region
but had no specific examples. Grybow did some research and presented the
Alaskan model. Because there was only 16 feet of tree to work with,
Robinson had to choose his two favorite symbols for his own totem pole.
Robinson wanted the eagle on top, he said.
"I don't know all the history, I just know what I like," Robinson
Grybow, on the other hand, has become an expert. It is his first totem
pole, and he wanted to stay as true to the process as possible. A nearly
impossible feat, considering the differences in era, location and work
"The design is very true," Grybow said, "but his process differs
greatly from the native Tlingits."
As Grybow whittled away at the Spanish oak tree -- still rooted in the
Santa Ana soil -- he rattled off the history of the ancient totem pole.
In Alaska, the carving of a totem pole is a ceremonial event. The
tribesmen would come together, choose a sculptor and begin the extensive
search for the perfect cedar tree.
For this pole, Robinson contacted Grybow through mutual friends after
a futile attempt to find a totem pole carver in the phone book. Grybow's
concentration and diligence appears ritual-like, but the work is rooted
in a practical client-artist relationship. Robinson said he realizes true
artistry cannot be rushed.
"He can take his time," Robinson said.