Interpreting Cultural Sources – Stage 1 Art, Artists & Totems

Research – Other Totem Interpretations

Carol Lee Shanks.Carolleeshankstotem

This piece entitled Totem comes from the Remains series of work by Carol.  Her website states that the Remains series began in 2009 when she had been working with wax paper and the remaining pieces from the panels she was making became the inspiration for the new series.  Her most recent work has been created from the scraps left after creating her clothing collection.  These pieces were dropped into a basket and were later used as hand stitched appliqué onto hemp.  She says that the tone on tone colour allows the texture to be the focus.

Her email to me says that her inspiration is rooted more in how vertical compositions can become conversations, somewhat like text on a page.

Cheryl Cross.Cheryl Cross

Cheryl, a member of the Bath Textile Artists in the UK, has made this  piece depicting an owl, a fish and …. a dog, perhaps.  Her picture is very low resolution so not a lot of detail can be seen but enough colour work is evident to realise that she has made an item that is vibrant and lively.  From what I can see it seems to have a sheen to it so I wonder whether it has been stiffened and varnished.

Her profile on the website says that she has obtained her skills through numerous courses and workshops.  She has a fascination with colour, fabric texture and thread and this has led her to create original materials to base her own work on.

This is quite a lovely piece and I wonder how large it is.

JafaGirls showcase some excellent Yarnbombing on trees on their website and they describe them as Textile Totems.  They achieve a lot of variety in their work.  Check out the photos on their website.

Barbara Atkinson.


Ceramic artist Barbara Atkinson from Apache Junction finds her inspiration from gardening and all things outdoors.  A multi-media artist her totems are created from kiln-fired and glazed clay with surface decoration added whilst the pieces are still wet and pliable.  They can have up to three firings.  The bases are welded steel and are designed to sit in a garden.

Jill Underhill.

Totem Group of 3

These totems on the Jill Underhill Gallery site are advertised as being made from hypertufa and are freeze proof.  It must get very cold in Harbert Michigan.  Hypertufa is a manufactured ‘rock’ made from a variety of aggregates and bonded together with cement.  I bet these weigh a bit.  The arrow shapes are interesting but unfortunately there is no other info on the site about them so I have no idea what has inspired their form, if anything.

Flower SculptureThis ceramic flower sculpture, from the same site, has more interest for me but I’m not convinced I’d like it in my back yard.  It seems a little too phallic for my taste.  It is advertised as being easily disassembled which would be a benefit to moving it around and I guess it means you could add or lessen the height according to the place it is to be situated.  Just another thing to add to my mental bank – totems which have removable sections, or interchangeable sections to achieve a different look.  Could be worth exploring, definitely worth remembering.


So, a few different interpretations.  Some of these seem to have meaning behind them, are a definite attempt to create something original and still maintain the dictionary definition of the word totem.  Others feel to me to have used the word totem purely to denote the long narrow shaping which is most often associated with the word but is not actually correct – a totem can be many shapes, it is the content which is important.  I can’t fathom a meaning or message in those ones.   Looking back at the dictionary definitions I quoted in a recent post here I can see that some of these examples don’t really seem to fit the mould.

I’ve just checked my emails and have received permission to use photos and text from another artist site so my next post will be very exciting and showcasing some contemporary totems which are very topical, give a clear message and should not be ignored by any of us in this day and age of disposable short-life-span products.

Resources: – Image courtesy of Carol Lee Shanks. – Images courtesy of Barbara Atkinson. – Images courtesy of Jill Underhill.


About Claire B

I'm a passionate printmaker, paper-maker and a poor sketcher (which I'm working to improve). I've stitched from early childhood and am a perpetual student, loving learning and participating in everything creative.
This entry was posted in Assignment 1: Cultural Fusion, Textiles 1: Exploring Ideas and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Interpreting Cultural Sources – Stage 1 Art, Artists & Totems

  1. fibresofbeing says:

    You’ve shown us a wonderful variety of work over the past few posts. Very interesting to see the common threads and the differences in use / materials / intention…

    • Claire B says:

      And I feel I’m only skimming the surface…….
      It is so interesting and I’m already wondering how I can interpret them in my own way when I get to the samples stage.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s