Friday, October 5, 2012

A Canadian Craft

The Totem Pole


The only time I've ever been to Canada was a quick trip with my husband and sister-in-law to Vancouver.  When I mean quick I mean we left Seattle at noon and were back in Seattle at 11pm !  So, needless to say, I didn't have time to soak up much of the flavor of Canada.  We did go to the Capillano suspension bridge, which is a long and wobbly bridge over a gorge in the beautiful forest, the park also has a little area with many totem poles and it tells you a little of the history of the totem pole. 

Totem poles are basically tall sculptures carved from trees.  They were (and are still) made by the aboriginal people of Canada, what they refer to as the First Nations.  They have probably been made for centuries or longer, but because they are made of wood, they decay quickly and no totems poles today are older than the 1880s.

There are many different reasons for the totem poles and each carver had their own style of carving, but they all were erected to tell some sort of story.  They were used to tell legends and fables, show a family history, or to mark a notable event.  Some were used to hold grave boxes and act as a kind of gravestone.  Some were used to bring ridicule or shame on others.  These were called "shame poles" and were put up to show a wrong that an individual or group did to the tribe, such as an unpaid debt or broken promise.  An interesting idea but they really must have held a long grudge since the poles probably took a long time to carve!


We decided to make our own totem pole - one that would represent our family.  This was an act of faith on their part.  I had an idea in my head but was totally unsure if I could make it actually work.  Let me just say I surprised myself.  If I say so myself, it is AWESOME!!  And because it is made out of recycled plastic bottles and duct tape it will probably outlive all of us :)

Make Your Own Family Totem Pole

For the project you will need:
  • a plastic gallon-sized milk jug for each person
  • misc. plastic bottles for any other animal you add
  • something heavy to put in bottom (we used sand)
  • dowel or pvc pipe- should be as tall as all the jugs stacked up and able to fit in spout of milk jug
  • brown spray paint - and any other colors you want to add
  • white, black and red duct tape (or you could use paper and then put a sealer over it)
  • a sharp knife to cut holes in bottom of plastic bottles
  • some imagination :) and a little ingenuity
1.  Drink a lot of milk.  Once you've collected all the bottles fill one of them most of the way up with sand, or rocks, or something heavy.  This is the base. 
2. Stick your pipe or dowel into the spout of the jug.  Note: it is very important that your pipe is not wider than the spout of a milk jug.  
3. Cut a hole in the bottom of the other milk jugs and thread them onto the pole.
4. For the top of the pole you can either end with a head or make an animal totem.  We have 2 animals - a cat and a butterfly.  Many of the real totem poles have a winged Thunderbird on top so we made our own winged creature.  We cut holes in the side of a juice bottle and stuck water and soda bottles on either side like wings.
5.  Right now you are probably thinking that this doesn't look like much of a totem pole.  I wasn't so sure I knew what I was doing myself, but the next step changes it instantly!  Spray paint your creation brown and it totally starts looking like a totem pole. I promise.
6.  Add some details - eyes, mouths, kitty ears - with the duct tape or by cutting them out and glueing them on then going back with a sealer afterwards.  The duct tape was easier and should last longer but was a little hard to cut.  I cut and the kids stuck them in the right spots.

7.  Stand back and admire your new totem pole.  Call the neighbors over to admire your new totem pole.  Give it a place of pride in your backyard :)


You can't see but we have eyelashes on the girls and kitty ears on the cat.  The butterfly has fuzzy pipe cleaner antennae :) This turned out better than I ever imagined and I think it would be a great project for your family or even a school project!  Think how tall it could go!!!!!  Thanks for checking it out!         

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