A totem pole | © Bernard Spragg. NZ / Flickr For our next investigation you will be creating a piece of a larger totem pole that is based on who you are.  Each piece needs to have the same height at the base & the top in order to piece together as a class. Totem history

OBJECTIVE: To create a 12″ portion of a totem pole based on one of the seven types of reasons for creating totem poles by using the coil method of construction & sculptural techniques, and including areas that are carved into as well as sculpted. The base & top need to fit the circumference of the exemplar.

Totem Poles Stanley Park. VancouverThere are 7 different types or reasons to create a totem pole:

  • memorial erected to identify changes in house (from past owner to present owner)
  • grave markers (tombstones)
  • house posts which support the roof
  • portal poles (creating a marker where a person enters the home through)
  • welcome posts (typically on the edge of a body of water to identify the owner of the waterfront)
  • mortuary posts where the remains of the deceased are placed at the base
  • ridicule poles (where an important individual had failed in some way had his likeness carved upside down) these are taken down once the person makes amends

Each portion of the totem pole has both carved areas that emphasize the flat painted surfaces of the symbolic animals.  Animals are consistent among various cultures, for example an eagle always has a curved down beak & a beaver always has cross-hatched tails.  The animals can be likened to that of an ancestral crest and shows the connection to the lineage of the household.  Taller totems relate to an entire family history that can only be interpreted by those within the family as it relates to the history and customs of the clan. Each animal has meaning and when combined together creates a story that typically only a member of the family can share.

Totem poles in Stanley Park, Vancouver, CanadaThe word totem refers to a guardian or ancestral being that is revered and respected but not always worshiped.  The Native Americans had a deep connection to the earth and even the totem poles are carved from wood and typically only last 50-60 years.  For this reason, most of the totem poles that exist today were created after 1860.

The Seward pole, an example of a pole used to shame someonePhoto of Kwagluth Totem Pole - Chicago, IL, United States

Totem poles at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, North Vancouver. Photo by Julie SkurdenisPhoto of Sitka National Historical Park - Sitka, AK, United States. Example of Park's totemsTourists learn about the storied history of totems in SGang Gwaay.Totem 1

Totem animal meanings


Student Samples: