Monday, December 11, 2017

Paper Mache Totem Pole

"Lowest man on the totem pole" is a phrase that implies that the most important symbols are placed at the top of the totem pole, but this is not always the case. In fact, if you have a tall totem pole (which can be 30 feet tall) than the "lowest man" may get the most attention as it is at eye level and may be wider to support what's on top.

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.

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