Totem Poles are such a unique form of artistic expression. They are made by the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast, which includes British Columbia, Alaska, Washington and Oregon. These impressive sculptures are carved from the trunks of very large trees, typically Western Red Cedars, and used as a way of documenting and communicating stories, myths and legends. Exploring one part of Canada’s rich cultural heritage is a nice way to celebrate Canada Day.
- cylindrical container
- pencil and paper
- cardboard, egg cartons etc – used to make shapes on the cylinder
- masking tape
- white paper towels
- white glue
- plastic container
- paint brushes
The designs and symbols carved on totem poles are used to tell a story about one’s clan lineage and important events. And while each tribe has its own distinctive style of carving, the top figure on the pole is usually the clan crest. Common crests are the raven, eagle, thunderbird, orca, frog and beaver. The carvings underneath the crest continue the story and typically include animals, supernatural beings, and human forms.
There are many wonderful websites providing information about the history of totem poles. A quick search for “Pacific Northwest Coast totem poles” will provide images to help children along with this project. Here are just a few sites:
1. Have children do some research, and select the creatures they would like to include on their totem. Three seems to be a good number to fit on potato chip cans. They can sketch out their ideas if necessary.
2. Add these designs to the canister, using materials like cardboard, scrunched up newspaper, egg cartons and masking tape. The point is to emphasize certain features like eyes and wings.
3. Mix paper mâché paste using one part white glue to one part water. Dip strips of torn white paper towels in the paste, making sure to remove any excess before applying to the canister.
Aim for three layers. If using newspaper, you may want to paint the surface in white before adding others colours, so they appear more vibrant. Allow to dry. This may take several days.
4. Add paint to complete the totem pole.