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15 Minutes: Totem pole designer uses magnifying glass for features

Amanda Fehd
Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Raymond Mosher stands with his creation, made with a magnifying glass, at the Tahoe Valley Campground.
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Seven years ago, Raymond Mosher decided to leave his lawyer’s desk in Southern California for the road. He and his wife Carol Lee travel year-round in their RV.

After a lifetime in engineering and law, Mosher rediscovered his artistic side and created a totem pole for the Tahoe Valley Campground. He used a magnifying glass to burn Haida Indian-style designs in the wood.

Q: Tell me about the Haida.

A: The Haida Indians are the Northwest Indians and it’s primarily Haida art that you see the most of up there.

Originally, all the art disappeared because of Western influence. In the 50s it started coming back and young people started getting involved.

In college, I started seeing some of these and became interested in them.

There were rules to the designs, you had to use ovals and limited colors and what you made had to be recognizable within those rules. You can break it up, then it becomes a little intellectual exercise.

Q: How did you come up with the designs for your totem pole?

A: What I wanted to do was get completely around the log with a two-dimensional design.

You should be able to tell you are looking at a sun, an owl, or a bear. There is an abundance of myths and concepts which a design might illustrate or expand upon.

The animals on my pole are found in the Lake Tahoe area. There’s a humming bird on the pole, which is a completely unique design.

Their art is based on symbols.

The eagle is a powerful symbol for a tribe. And the raven is the common hero for Indian art. The raven is the only thing you can find anywhere, from a snowy field to the ocean.

Q: How did you go from being interested in art to being a lawyer?

A: I went to art school and then when I ran out of money, I joined the Army Corps of Engineers and did construction drafting. Then I went into aircraft industry as a tool designer. I worked at Douglas Aircraft and went to law school at night. When I graduated from law school I worked in contract administration. We were developing the DC-9 (an airplane).

Q: How long have you been coming to Tahoe Valley?

A: This is our third summer. We used to come here to ski when I worked in Southern California.

Q: What prompted you to live the RV life, or what would you call that life?

A: You mean the best way to live? With the price of fuel going up, we tend to stay in the same place for while. But California is the best place to be. Tahoe and Palm Springs are the top places to live.

Q: Do you work here?

A: I lead the water aerobics, I lead the classes here and lead the classes in Palm Springs. And now we are working as activities directors. We set up programs for the kids. My wife taught preschool for several years.

Q: It feels like a community when you walk around here.

A: You end up knowing people that you meet in the RV parks better than you do when you work with somebody.

Because you are often just passing through, you don’t have time to meet for coffee. People decide whether they want to be your friends very quickly and you are friends for a long time.

Q: What prompted the idea to start a totem pole?

A: I decorated a log with a Haida owl and brought it here. And the manager here said, “that’s pretty good” and I said “if you give me a big enough log, I can do a better one.”

Q: How long did it take?

A: I’d do the designs at night and burned for a couple of hours a day, it took a couple months.

Q: Do you think the spatial problem solving appealed to your engineering brain?

A: I think so. The abstractive area is the most interesting part of it. Within each object there can be other objects.

Q: Are you going to keep doing this?

A: Yeah. It takes time, so I’ll be making smaller ones now, but mostly I’ve been doing those for friends. I don’t know anyone else that’s done one like this using the burning technique.

Q: Do you want to do this as a profession?

A: No. What happens is if you are doing the same thing all the time, it’s boring. Even if it would pay good money, I wouldn’t do it. You don’t want to crank them out, but if somebody’s got a special idea, I want to do them.

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