Monday, May 27, 2013

Totem Poles

Now that school is out I have so much more time to catch up on blog posts (funny how that works).  In fourth grade, we spend our year looking at "Art of the Americas" which I mean art of North and South America--some things we cover include: women artists (Kahlo, O'Keeffe, and Carr), Mexican crafts (molas, Oaxacan animal sculptures, tinwork, papel amate) and other things like George Catlin and Native Americans.  I learned long ago to curb the Native American part, because it can REALLY take over.  This year we ran really close to the end of the year, so we didn't make as many Native American projects.  I also have a fairly small room, so ideally, I like to rotate through projects so my room isn't filled to bursting with totem poles (didn't work out so well this year).  We get some background knowledge of Native Americans, talk about what we already know, etc.  I ask the cafeteria manager to save cans for me (the big, industrial-sized ones that school vegetables come in) and run them through the dishwasher.  In a school our size, in takes about 2-3 days to get 75 cans.  Everyone gets their own can, with their name and class code written on the bottom in Sharpie.  Then, we spend a day covering them with newspaper and building up layers for our totems--it's like each student is making a section of the totem pole.  I reiterate to them several times that symmetry is important. So, one day of building and (ideally) three days of papier macheing.  I found it's best to do different layers every time so they can see exactly where they've been: first day--newspaper, second day--yellow pages from old phone books, final day--school paper towels cut into strips.  Here are some totems after papier macheing:

Time permitted us to go the regular route in ONE class, and paint a base layer (white):


While in two other classes we went a different route:
 Painting with no base layer (ran out of time).
 This class didn't even have time for papier mache,
so I improvised and just had them use paper. . . eh, I don't know that I'd do it again.

More of the paper sculpture type ones.
Painting is the final step, and that's where the personality of the totems really starts to show.  In a year where we don't run right up to the last day of school, we have a Pot Latch party, raising our totems and taking all our Native American projects home.  I've also put two little spots of hot-glue between them to secure them and displayed them in corners of our hallways (if you do this, you have to be prepared for several accidental and "accidental" knocking over of your totem poles).
 I love the Squidward one--look at those eyebrows!
Eye see you like our totems--sorry, I couldn't resist!


  1. These are brilliant! The incorporation of a theme that includes so many different artists and styles is great. I bet this was a hit with the 4th graders :)

  2. They do love it! And I was thinking after I posted, this whole project costs almost nothing: just the masking tape (when the sculpture is built) and the cost of paint :-)

  3. I am so impressed with this art project! Even with the improv, it still worked out very well.


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