Totem poles attract tourists and tell a storyThe totem poles outside Jim’s Ash Trail Store have always attracted attention — but now it’s a different kind. And if customers aren’t drawn to the cursive signature on the decorative beam, owner Jim Knutson will point it out.
By: Christa Lawler, Forum News Service, The Jamestown Sun
The totem poles outside Jim’s Ash Trail Store have always attracted attention — but now it’s a different kind. And if customers aren’t drawn to the cursive signature on the decorative beam, owner Jim Knutson will point it out.
“Take a look on your way out,” he said to a customer during a recent phone call to the multi-purpose shop. “It’s a piece of history.”
The two totem poles and woodwork inside the store near Orr were carved a decade ago by Carl and Linda Muggli. Back then they were a husband-wife carving team with an international client base.
On Tuesday, Carl Muggli was sentenced to 15 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to the unintentional second-degree murder of his wife. Linda Muggli died in 2010 after the 700-plus pound totem pole they were working on fell on top of her.
Knutson’s store has a log cabin design, and the Muggli totem poles are built-in supports beneath the store’s peaked entrance. The gas-liquor-bait-grocery store and gift shop also has wood countertops, tables and shelves made by the Mugglis. The owner’s office is marked with a wooden sign that says “Jim’s Den,” decorated with a wolf and pine trees.
Knutson hired the Mugglis to create something that would give the store an “up North” feel, he said.
“People take pictures of it all the time,” Knutson said. “Now they’re really coming around and looking.”
It’s the signature paired with the totem poles that attracts attention.
“Everybody puts two and two together,” he said. “A lot of people knew they had done the work here. Even the ones who didn’t say, ‘Wow, the totem poles here. Is that the Muggli deal?’ “
The totem pole business was Linda Muggli’s idea, Carl Muggli told the News Tribune immediately after her death and before he faced murder charges.
They had been carving totem poles since 1990, first intending them for personal decorations and later turning the hobby into a business. Their 20 acres near Ray in Koochiching County included a gift shop and petting zoo.
Carl Muggli told the News Tribune in 2010 that their company benefited from Internet sales.
The Mugglis charged about $200 per carved foot — which is standard, according to Dave Parsons of Parsons Woodsculpture near St. Croix Falls, Wis.
The Mugglis’ totem poles ranged from 16 inches to 50 feet tall. They used cedar for smaller work, red or white pine for the larger poles, according to their website.
“The quality was fantastic — the design and the symmetry,” said Parsons, who does similar work. “You see nice cuts when you look at them. The quality is visible.”
The Mugglis created pieces for family cabins or farms as well as for major companies, including Six Flags theme park and the Target Chalet at the 2010 Winter X-Games. There is one on the set of the Seattle-based TV show “Grey’s Anatomy” and the Mugglis have a totem pole at the Veterans Administration hospital in Brockton, Mass.
The Mugglis also had an international client base and have totem poles at the Chalet Geronimo in the French Alps and at the Princess Diana Memorial Park in London.
The worth of the work
No one has asked to buy any of Knutson’s Muggli woodwork — though his store is for sale and the new owner will get all of it.
Still, sometimes pieces associated with current events are subject to a surge in popularity, according to Terry Roses, who owned Fragments of History on West Superior Street for about a decade.
O.J. Simpson cards were in demand in the mid-1990s while he was on trial for the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. All of Roses’ newspapers from the sinking of the Titanic were sold out when James Cameron’s movie was released in 1997, he said.
“Whenever there is an off-beat connection, like a murder or something … it holds temporary significance,” Roses said. “The particular totem pole in question would go up in value because of the story attached to it.”
Bob Neuenschwan-der’s souvenir and gift shop, Border Bob’s in International Falls, has two Muggli-carved poles in front of the store. The pieces are about 7 feet tall, he said, and carved from ash wood with three or four symbols each.
He was among the first people to purchase the Mugglis’ work, which might have given them an early financial boost to get the business going, he said.
“I’ve got two of the very first ones they did,” he said. “So that’s special to me.”
Neuenschwander’s store is seasonal and hasn’t been open since Muggli pleaded guilty. It won’t change the way he looks at his totem poles.
“Not really,” he said.
Knutson considers his Muggli pieces bits of history by two people who contributed to local tourism. He said he can still picture the Mugglis as they worked together inside his store.
“We won’t be getting any more totem poles from Linda. It’s a piece of history,” he said. “Here’s the way I look at it: It’s tragic that it’s ruined two people’s lives. Linda’s gone and Carl’s life is ruined. Life is funny, it takes different turns. It’s a sad deal.”