Totem Poles


Our lives have many chapters and milestones. Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees and we need to take a step back to gain some perspective. This project helps you to see the connection between your major life events and proudly displays it so others can observe your unique story as well.

Totem poles are monumental sculptures carved on poles, posts, or pillars with symbols or figures made from large trees. The figures carved into the pole such as animals and people, often represent significant life events and milestones. Other times they represent the qualities and characteristics of the person making the pole. Think about significant experiences or your own personal characteristics, and imagine how you might represent them in your own totem pole?

For this project  you will need some air dry clay and sculpting tools. Take some time now to list a few significant life events that you experienced. What are some of your qualities and characteristics? Now, think about what animal or object could represent that experience or characteristic. Once you have an idea of what things you want in your project, use the clay to create your own totem pole.

Here are some examples:

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The first totem pole begins from the bottom up. It starts with an angel holding an orb which represents the artists higher power and the orb is their life. Then there is a horse standing on the shoulders of the angel. This horse represents men who appeared to be strong and reliable but ended up being wolves. the wolf is located just above the horse. These men got in the way of the artists sobriety and there was a time of stagnation represented by the blank space above the wolf. Then the artist began her road to recovery and found some peace, represented by the peace sign in the cloud. But this peace can be hard to reach and sometimes feels like it’s about to float away.

The second totem pole also starts from the bottom. It’s difficult to see bt the artist carved an image of a tree into the first block. This represents their extensive support system and strong family ties. The second block has two figures carved into it representing her and her husband. The next block has a lightning bolt on it to represent the shock of her divorce and the onset of her addiction. Then the big sun comes out and is rising over the danger, this is her recovery. Finally a brown owl rests atop her pole to represent all the lessons she has learned and the wisdom yet to come.

4 responses to “Totem Poles

  1. You are an amazing resource. I can not thank you enough. I’m thinking those two examples are ones that clients have made. Is it possible to get a narrative as to what each of those means? Thank you sharing your knowledge. Jill

    • Dear Jill,
      Your kind words are much appreciated! Sometimes I wonder if anyone even reads my blog lol. I am so glad that these directives can be of use to you and if you have any you would like to share I would love to hear about them! I have edited the post to include descriptions of the totem poles that my clients made. Thanks again, and happy art making!

  2. These examples have really helped me think about how I can approach this task with young boys and girls. The totem project I will be involved with is for kids experiencing difficulties to consider school values and hopefully relate these in meaningful ways to their own experiences. Thank you.

  3. I have used this directive with children in art therapy sessions, it was quite telling. Though I’m curious, what prompts or questions you asked once the art was finished.

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