Feb 292008

These are the finished totem poles that will eventually be planted in our sculpture garden.
This is one section of a larger “totem pole” made from coils of clay and sculpted symbolic animals. I’m still working on this one as an example for my Ceramics students, who will be collaborating in groups to complete two finished 10′ poles.

 Posted by at 12:20 pm

  25 Responses to “Totem Poles”

  1. This looks like a great start! It is amazing how similar it is to the idea of the photos I sent you. Coincidence? Or great minds think alike? Or the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. . .?

  2. Thanks for the feedback! You’re right, Mom, it is similar… where did you take those pictures? I think we will leave ours unglazed, and stain them with an iron oxide to bring out the textures and detail.

  3. How is the totem coming? Are the students into it? I will be excited to see it done and hear the reaction of the rest of the school. They are lucky to have you!

  4. You are so awesome and all of your projects look so good. I wish I was in your class!

  5. To see some student projects, visit La Serna High School Ceramics (sidebar). I took some pictures before putting them in the kiln, and I’ll be sure to post more after we’ve constructed the poles. Sooner or later I’d like to record images of more student work on this website too (Chris, will you help?)

  6. I want to buy a sweet 10 foot totem pole….

  7. Hello, I am considering doing a similiar totem pole project with my students so any adivice you could give me would be gratefully recieved. I am amazed at the outcome you have achieved. What scale are the individual sections and is that a drain pipe running through the middle of them all?

  8. Hi Kelly,
    I was lucky enough to find two old volleyball net posts that were being discarded. They are extremely heavy because the metal pipes are cemented into tires at the base. I don’t think it would be very hard or expensive to make something similar yourself (just make sure it’s bottom-heavy).
    As for the individual sections, I cut up PVC piping into 10″ pieces to build the coils around. This ensures that the coiled sections will all have the same diameter (make sure it’s a bit larger to compensate for shrinkage during firing). Cover the PVC pipe with newspaper so that the coiled cylinders will easily slide off after construction.
    First my students worked in pairs to build their 10″ cylinders out of coils. Next they were given a totem animal to incorporate and build onto their coil base. I also gave them instructions to carve words that were descriptive of their totem animal’s symbolism.
    There is so much that you can do with this totem pole project, and tons of interesting cultural and art historical background to incorporate. Have fun with this lesson, and let me know how it turns out!

  9. Also, check out my teaching page (under Ceramic Sculpture) for more examples of the individual totem sections.

  10. How did you get the finish on the totems? Is that a glaze?

  11. What kind of glazes did you use on the totem poles?

  12. We didn’t actually glaze the totems. First we bisque fired them, and then stained them with iron oxide. If you sponge off some of the iron oxide after applying it with a brush, you can create highlights on the surface while the cracks remain more saturated and dark.

  13. Not glaze, but stain (iron oxide).

  14. hi, i love your work and do you have any more pictures of your totem poles? can you post it online or something? thanks

  15. Hi Reuben, If you look under the Teaching section of this website under Ceramics, there’s a slideshow of individual totems before they were stained and fired. Those are the only pictures I have left (the project was done a few years ago, and I am now teaching somewhere else).

  16. Hi! I am a native and I love those pictures, they look like the totem poles at the National Park on the reserve.

  17. HI,
    I love your students totems. Do you have any new ones in the works? Would love to see new pictures of them. Keep up the good work you’re doing with your students.

    Thanks for sharing.


  18. Hi Naomi,
    I would really like to do this project again, but at the moment I have my students working on an acrylic painting project (pics to come!). Thanks for the feedback, and I will definitely post any new work to share. Thanks Again!

  19. Love your totems!!!! I’ve posted about them at marianwilliamspottery.com
    Hope that’s ok!

  20. Thank you Marian! I like the other totem examples you posted as well. Thank you for linking back to my blog… Much appreciated!

  21. I love these! I think it would be so much fun to give these a try–I was in need of a new idea!

  22. Love your work !
    I’ve started my first totem and am enjoying it. I can see more totems in my future. I am in Tappahannock, Va.
    What kind of prices can you get for them?

  23. love the totem idea for my students.
    However, I m puzzled by how to obtain a base. I see in other totems it looks like a metal square that artist use. I need more detail about this. Thanks

  24. Hi Darlene,
    You may need to get creative about finding or making a base. I was lucky and scored two volleyball net posts that were going to be thrown away. It’s important that the base is bottom-heavy. You could buy wooden dowels or pvc pipe and make a cement form for the bottom part. Good luck!

  25. Hello-
    This is an excellent totem project! I am wondering if you could tell me more about staining with iron oxide. Where can you get it? How is it mixed? Did these hold up in the rain/cold/snow without clear glaze on them? I am looking for a cost conscious way to glaze or stain a large number of projects for a collaborative installation in our school’s sculpture garden.

    Thanks so much, I know this post is quite old 🙂

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