Totem poles are symbolic sculptures made to serve as symbols of cultural pride and family lineage. Totems poles often are found in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. Create your own totem poles to celebrate your family lineage, express your cultural beliefs, or tell a story in pictorial form. Papier mache is an outstanding medium for creating totem poles because it is inexpensive, and the finished structures are light weight and easy to move around.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Easy
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Things you need
- 2-liter plastic bottles
- Masking tape
- Cardboard, such as flattened packing boxes
- Old newspapers
- Plastic bowl
- Acrylic or poster paints
- Clear spray paint
Create plastic cylinders from the 2-liter bottles. Cut off the tapered top and spout of the bottle so the cylinder has only one width. Cut off the bottom 2 inches of the bottle as well, opening the cylinder.
Slip the bottom of one of the plastic cylinders inside a second plastic cylinder to create one larger cylinder from the two. Continue sliding the cylinders together in this manner until the structure has reached the desired height of yourl totem pole. Run a piece of masking tape along the cylinders where they join to secure them together.
Cut small shapes out of the cardboard to be used as ears, noses or wings on your different totem pole creatures. Tape the cardboard pieces in place on the plastic structure with masking tape. Crumpled up newspaper can also be used to add form and features to the creature's shapes. More detailed shapes can be created later with the paper mache.
Prepare the papier mache paste. Thoroughly mix two parts water with one part flour in the plastic bowl.
Tear newspaper into strips about 1 to 2 inches wide. Dip the strips into the papier mache paste, coating them completely. Pull the strips through two of your fingers to remove excess paste.
Drape the coated newspaper strips over the base structure of your totem pole. Smooth the strips with your hands, fitting the strips to the structure. Alternate the direction in which the strips are orientated. Cover the structure completely, including any cardboard pieces you taped on, with two to three layers of coated newspaper strips. Your totem pole will begin to take shape as all the components are covered. Use smaller newspaper strips to cover more detailed areas or build up facial features.
Allow the structure to dry completely. Use acrylic or poster paints to add vibrant colour to your totem pole and bring out the features of the designs. Allow the paint to dry completely before applying a final coat of clear spray paint. The spray paint will help to protect the papier mache and will add a glossy, finished touch to your totem pole.
Tips and warnings
- Take care to add the final coating of spray paint to your totem pole design in a well-ventilated area. Wearing a mask when using spray paint is recommended.
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