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How to make a homemade totem pole

Updated February 21, 2017

Totem poles were traditionally made by the tribes of the Pacific Northwest and some southern Alaskan tribes. Totem poles represent a range of stories or events, such as a family's ancestral spirits, history, clan lineage and even as a reminder of a quarrel. Still made today, totem poles are one of the most expensive pieces of traditional Native American art available. Making your own can be a fascinating and meaningful project.

Choose the creatures you want on your totem pole. Common totem pole creatures are the eagle, the wolf, the beaver and the bear. However, you can choose an animal that means something to you, such as a family pet, an animal that appears regularly in your dreams or animals you may have seen on a recent trip to the zoo, for example.

Gather a selection of bottles and cans, one to represent each animal. You can have as many animals as you want, the more animals, the taller the totem pole. Use sticky tape to connect the containers on top of each other, ensuring the heaviest container goes on the bottom so the totem pole is not top-heavy. A large glass bottle is ideal for this. Alternatively, fill the bottom container with sand to weigh it down.

Draw the parts of the totem pole that will stick out onto cardboard. These would be beaks and wings. Once you have drawn these parts, cut them out and tape them to the appropriate parts of the totem pole.

Mix a paste for the papier mache that is half white glue and half water. Tear newspaper into strips, dip each strip into the paste, and cover the entire totem pole with the papier mache. Allow to dry.

Paint the totem pole in bright colours.

Tip

To ensure the papier mache does not go mouldy, add 2 tablespoons of salt to the paste. An alternative papier mache recipe is to mix one part flour to one part water and mix until smooth. For younger children, create the totem pole with a cardboard tube rather than bottles and cans.

Warning

Always supervise children when using scissors.

Things You'll Need

  • Selection of bottles and cans
  • Sticky tape
  • Pen
  • Cardboard
  • Scissors
  • Papier mache
  • Paint
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About the Author

Based in England, Tami Mason writes for Local.com and various other websites. Mason has worked as a proofreader and copy editor since 2007 and is a trained interior designer who also specializes in art history, art and crafts.