Nine of my high school students made an couple of equal opportunity totem poles out of paper mache a few weeks ago.
They had completed their ceramic totem poles using several different animals the previous week, so they were familiar with the symbols. This assignment required them each to choose an animal to represent him or herself.
We started by building 6'-7' poles of cardboard, taping cereal boxes, pie tins and parts of bottles to form beaks, eyes, noses and fins.
Paper mache was added to the under structure. We dipped strips of newspaper into a bowl of fabric starch to layer onto the surface. I taught my students to pull the paper strips through two straight fingers to "squeegee" the excess liquid.
At least five layers (probably 6-7 large bottles of starch) later, we were ready to paint the surface with black latex. Students used chalk to draw the designs on their animal on the dry underpainting. Then the poles came to life as colors were added. We stayed with the primary colors plus white and brown to keep it traditional and visually unified.
It was well worth the two weeks to turn reusable "trash" into large collaborate art pieces, which will last for years.