Monday, April 13, 2009


Lirrminginging by Yidumduma Bill Harney (wood, natural pigments, fibre,feathers)

I read somewhere that totem poles are long sticks that tell a story. Put simply, that is exactly what they are. I've been carving totem poles since my teens though my first totems were based on the North American Indian totems. Completely different to what I do now. I was always on the lookout for anything totem related but the only information I ever found was about the Native American totems. Now having access to the internet I'm amazed at the different interpretations I have found.

Columns by David Nash

Gavin Young's typographic tree sculptures installed in Crawley Library

Fourteen oak trunks were used to display carved passages of text from literature within Crawley Library. The lettering on the trees is sandblasted out of the wood. Read the story here.

Totem IX by Ralph Holker

"Among Native American people's totems represented the clan and it's ancestors through an animal or natural object related by blood and taken as its symbol. The clay and the abstract carvings of these Totems are my connection to the natural symbols and the artists of the past" - Ralph Holker

Totem (2 piece) in clay by Louise Gelderblom, South Africa

"Louise Gelderblom’s sculptural vessels are handmade in Cape Town, South Africa. While the working methods are firmly rooted in an African clay tradition, the work is part of an urban contemporary aesthetic."

"I only coil, because when I coil it feels like I am busy drawing in three dimensions. The shape of the piece and the surface markings on it create a rhythm, a percussion beat that I think of as a wordless tactile language." - Louise Gelderblom
Totem (made with scrap metal) by Meagan Wainwright

Moon Spot Totem, waxed linen, iron and brass by Mary Giles

Totemobile, painted steel by Louis Fatta

" I work from large gage steel sheet and I-beam, 1/4” to 1” thick, cutting silhouetted images of objects such as cars, cities, birds, plants, and ants. My work involves the environment formed by the automobile and related elements of the urban surroundings and explores their relationship with nature. The works present themselves as artifacts enduring time, seeking to atone themselves with nature through their deterioration. My sculpture touches upon the imprint these images have left on our psyche, awakening personal and emotional connections." - Louis Fatta

"....each totemic ancestor while travelling through the country was thought to have scattered a trail of words and musical notes among the lines of footprints." - Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines


  1. I live in an area where native American Indian totems are quite common and then farther North in Alaska, even more so - it was a favorite subject to paint of my grandmother's - but I have to say, even with the totems you've shown here, my favorites are the ones you create - your esthetic really resonates with me....

  2. I walk amongst the living totems in the forest clad in their green coats. Marvelous that you can give the giants an afterlife.

  3. oh wow. these are a treat for the eyes. I love that totemobile.

  4. Fascinating treasurs here. All beautiful.
    The paper & willow totems are amazing.
    I do agree with Jeane...I just love yours.

  5. Some people still carve words of love on trees, a simlpe totem.

  6. you keep taking us in amazing and wonderful directions. thank you. without your research I'd never see them all. thanks lyle

  7. What an interesting group of artists you've exposed me to. Thanks so much for the education. The work is fascinating and all so different.

  8. How very unique. Thank you so much.

  9. They are fabulous. I loved moon spot totem and the paper tower especially. My friend, Georges Goguen, does totems too but got his inspiration from studying Egyptian hyroglyphs. The finished pieces remind me of aztec art. The totem suits you so well, Robyn. You are a story teller.

  10. I love all of this, I am in sheer ecstasy!

  11. another fabulous collection. I love the quote from Louise about coiling feeling like she's busy drawing in 3 dimensions, as well as describing creating being a rhythmic beat as wordless tactile language - I feel that happen in different ways I work, as well, completely different than hers, yet similar effect within me... It's always interesting to see how we all create with similarities at core, though differences in presentation/product. yummy works! thanks Robyn :)

  12. I love the somplicity of David Nash's.

  13. Again, hard to choose a favourite as they're all amazing in such different ways! But I guess I don't have to choose, I can just love them all... I'm always amazed by how these ideas evolve differently but are found echoed across the planet.

    And thanks for your skyborne thought at the weekend... I sat shivering on the roof of my building in the middle of an urban sprawl with no stars to be seen for about 15 minutes and then I thought of you lying on your grass... And it did feel better for the connection. Much appreciated! :o)

  14. Thanks so much Jeane! You're very encouraging.

    Blu, forests have always been enchanting places for me too.

    Priya, the totemobile is something completely different isn't it?

    Thanks Jo, it's great seeing all the different interpretations.

    Jude, I had never thought of that but you are so right...words of love carved on a tree.

    Lyle, who ever would have thought my love for school projects would blossom into a love of googling :-)

    Elizabeth, glad you enjoyed them.

    Dolores, my pleasure!

    Shayla, there is a lot more fantastic fiber sculpture at
    I would camp there if I could!

    Yoli, your "sheer ecstacy" is the cherry on the top!

    Karin, I feel the same way about carving...a creative rythm, a percussion beat...a wordless tactile language.

    Cynjon, David Nash's work is just my cup of tea! The symplicity and the wonderful texture.

    Kendalee, glad you got the message :-)
    (as many mozzies as there were stars....but Tabard work's wonders)

  15. I think it is incredible that you started carving so young... I am wondering who taught you and if you still have any of your first totems?
    I love discovering David Nash and
    Jand Balsgaard. Thank you for this and have a beautiful week! Roxanne

  16. Thank you for that Robyn - such an amazing diversity of materials and so many different designs - yet all totems - what a significant word that is - I am a great fan of Bruce Chatwin's Songlines - what a wonderful image that presents - words, musical notes and footprints.

  17. Hi Robyn,
    I am always so inspired by your blog! Thank you for that!

  18. Roxanne, I taught myself basically. My mom was going to carve but couldn't get into it. The chisels were there and I played about until I got into the swing of things. (quite a few cuts and stitches in the process)I don't have any of my early carvings because I was lucky enough to sell everything I made at a little homecraft shop.

    Weaver, I'm glad you mentioned the quote. I love the thought of scattered words and songs among the footprints.

    Caroline, I appreciate you saying so!

  19. I like the type one the best, but then again I think in a different life I would have done publication design. And I too, always associated totems with Native Americans, so thanks for pointing these out (and ps, your women sculptures also remind me of totems - they're so tall and slender!).

  20. I remember going through a totem pole museum on a trip to British Columbia. I liked it so much that I would enjoy going back. I wish you could go too.

    I loved the photos.

  21. WEll to hear that they are sticks that tell a story really open up the concept.. Loving the moon ones.. thankyou. I am still digesting that fabulous book, Natural fashion..

  22. P.S. Just popped back to say I've left an award for you over at my blog! I know I haven't known you very long, but I do find your blog a real inspiration!!

  23. All beautiful and striking in their own way. Love the totem mobile and the Ceramic totem (of course). I too love your totems the best. They have such a striking presence and just speak of life.

  24. Heather, I also love anything with type. It's not too late for you to do publication design :-)

    Snowbush, going to the totem pole museaum would be a real treat!

    Grrl, the moon spot totem is so effective isn't it. Still dipping into Natural Fashion myself.

    Caroline, thank you so much!

    Thanks Leanne. What I liked about the Gelderblom totems is the way the cylinders just fit into each other.

  25. I do love totems. The Moon Spot one especially caught my eye.

  26. These are wonderful, Robyn. But my favorites, by far, are the ones you make!

  27. i don't know what to say--
    that last quote went right through me! Its weird, but these images, they make me remember how words actually do make like an etching on us, how what we share is like a carving into each other: impressions left there.

    I learn so much here.Its like coming to a small evening lecture on art and soul. (and i am never tardy: opening the door after the lecture starts). Its wonderful. Thank you!

  28. I loved this tour of totems...learned plenty, thank you and I agree with the others, I especially like your totems.

  29. Bindu, Glad you enjoyed them.

    Thanks so much Willow!

    Mansuetude, I'm learning with each post too :-)

    Mary Ann, thank you!

  30. Wonderful post. The first picture is an absolute stunner!

  31. They are so expressive. Yours especially. And I adore Bruce Chatwin. I haven't thought about him for a long while. I need to take down On the Black Hill for a re-read!

  32. Thank you for stretching my interpretation of totems. I too am used to thinking of them synonymously with the Northwest Native American art - whose magnificence and scale has always awed me. It is fascinating how the art of storytelling in this medium has transcended cultures.

  33. Fantastic works! Thank you for sharing.

  34. You have the most amazing eye,
    i am in awe every time I come here - amazing art, my fav is the poles with the lettering and the moon spot totem - mmmmmm.

  35. I loved the typographic one- very different and each of these images are such cool and very different examples of totems. Beautiful post, Robyn!