So what the heck is a Totem Stick?

© Carolyn Bernard Young, Wings of Joy, 32 x 6 x 1″, stoneware, slips, acrylic, crushed turquoise, mounted on poplar

A Tribute

Totem Sticks are my own design, inspired by the magnificent totem poles of northwestern tribes like the Tlingit. Totem Sticks are an homage to those massive works of art – and you can hang it on your wall.

Totem poles were a sign of wealth, often constructed in front of the home of a Chief – to show ancestry and social rank of the family. They were also created for many other reasons. A totem pole might be created to record the history of a clan or family, illustrate a legend, welcome travelers and identify ownership of property, and even as a way to mark graves or honor a person of importance. Animal totems (spirit animals) significant to the family or clan were carved into the pole.

Tlingit totem pole
Courtesy of Lordkinbote at English Wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons

Totem Poles for Your Wall

So I decided to make a totem pole that could hang on the wall, using the spirit animals which have long intrigued me. By drying the clay to firm leather hard, I can break it into shards, apply the black slip, and carve the totems or spirit animals. For the bars and geometric shapes, I use soft leather hard clay to cut the shapes, then coat with black slip and carve. Each small piece is individually coated with slip and hand carved by me, then fired to 2167 degrees for durability.

Assembling the sculpture brings me such joy! As I select just the right piece and arrange them on a poplar “stick”, I often think of the totem poles that so inspire me. Next time, I’ll share some insights from people who created their own stories around a totem stick.

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