Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Totem Poles

Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest have been carving totem poles for generations, this clay project exposes students to the traditional techniques and symbolism used by the carvers.  Start by showing students examples of totem poles and the symbolism of the animals used in the poles.  Generally the animals in the poles tell a pictorial story, this can be a way to incorporate a writing project with an art project in your classroom.  Once students have chosen their story or their choice of symbols and animals, its time to build.

Start by giving students 6-8 ping pong sized spheres of clay (one for each animal).  Have students break off a little bit of the clay and start by shaping the body of the animal, typically it will be round or oval shaped, then use the extra clay to make the body parts such as legs, arms, wings, tails, facial features etc... don't forget to scratch to attach on all the parts well.  Use tools to create details like scales on a fish or claws on a bear.  Once each animal is built, you will need to cut a hole from the top to the bottom of each animal, I used a thin wooden dowel.  The top animal of the totem pole only needs the hole to go in about halfway so that you don't see the dowel poking out the top of the totem.  Be sure to make the hole slightly larger than you think you'll need because clay shrinks when it dries and is fired.  Next, fire all the pieces, glaze them and fire them again.

Once all of the pieces are finished, its time to assemble them.  I use cut blocks of 2x4's for the bases, it's good to pre-cut these then have students write their name on the bottom and sand them smooth with sand paper.  I also pre-drill a hole into the center of the base the same size as the dowel that you'll be using to stack your totem.  Squeeze a little wood glue into the drilled hole and slide in the dowel.  While the glue is drying, have students wipe the sawdust off the bases and then paint them.  I used a black acrylic paint, but you can use any color you'd like or have students use markers to color them in so you don't have to wait for the paint to dry.  Once your base is ready, start sliding the animals onto the dowel, hopefully you've made the holes large enough and they all fit easily.  If you have trouble with fit, you can either use a smaller dowel or use a Dremel tool with a grinder bit and grind the hole in the animal larger (this can take some time!).  When you add the last animal on the top of the totem pole, put a little glue into the hole and fit it on snugly.  If the dowel is too long, just cut it to the correct height with garden shears, then glue on the top piece.  Have students share their totem story with the class!
!!!B CR8IV!!!

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