1368629884mfad-talltales-06-1576186434_multimediaBlockImageThumbnail.jpgThe Totem Assignment may be completed using any single, or combination of, form making processes we have explored so far this semester (found object, assemblage, carving, modeling).  In addition, you may choose to add color. The style materials, medium and process of creation are up to you. It’s total height must be taller than you. It also must be designed/created with a particular location in mind. This is known as site-specific.


Brett DeBoer—Future Fossil, found object totem

A totem, in general, is a sculptural form that is vertical. The most common examples are those that were created by the native people of the Pacific Northwest of the United States although they have been created by people from all over the world for centuries. The purpose of a totem is typically as a spirit being, sacred object, or symbol that serves as an emblem of a group of people, such as a family, clan, lineage, or tribe. In other words, it is not simply decorative. For this reason, the decisions of shapes, colors, material or media, method of creation, etc. are for symbolic reasons. You determine what that symbolic reason is. The totem must have meaning.


You first need to decide on the materials you will use and the method you will use to connect those materials together. Because you have the added requirement that you must now stay home, you have the additional challenge of “taking stock” of what you have readily available to you. I want you to spend some time doing this. Look around your home, your yard, your garage. Be aware of the “manufactured things” as well as natural objects that are there. Do not necessarily go with the very first idea that comes to mind. All locations, all homes, have an infinite variety of materials or objects for you to work with. Some of you will have more traditional tools and materials available such as saws, hammers, wood, stone and the like. Others of you will not have those but you will have others (sewing machines, staplers, tape, glue, wax, candles, rocks, branches, twigs, DVD boxes, coffee pucks, board game pieces, etc.) One tip would be to look for something that you have multiples of, or more than one.

Once you have a short list of possible materials/objects to work with, you now need to think of the possible ways in which they can act as symbols, or how their combination could “tell a story”.  Ask yourself “what is the meaning behind their combination?”

Finally, you need to think of a specific location where the “story” will be most effective. For example, many traditional African and Chinese homes have sculptures (some are totems) that are placed on either side of the main entrance to the home. This placement has to do with spiritual belief, protection, or welcome. I want you to research how the placement of your totem in a particular location will complement and enhance the meaning of the totem itself. Secondarily, the site should be chosen because of an aesthetic reason. Be mindful of how the surrounding colors, textures, materials affect the colors, materials and textures of your totem.

I don’t want you to simply “stack up” stuff and call it a totem. A large part of this assignment has to do with how a 3Dimensional form can have the power to communicate (to be inspirational, to reference history, reference belief systems and tradition, etc.) I want you to explore the ways in which your choices of materials, assembly and site location can communicate something to us as the viewers.


Symbols in Sculpture

Materials/Processes—a variety of how-to techniques or approaches to materials that you are likely to have or find quite easily. Look at these techniques as possible inspiration, not that you should literally do exactly any one of these approaches. There are endless possibilities for you to solve this assignment.






(Click on the Image Collage below to view closeup versions of each example image.)