Totem poles stand tall

Art poles, peace poles, totem towers – call them what you will – many of today’s garden totem poles share the same colorful artistry and slender, upright demeanor as the towering log totems once carved by Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest.

But the similarity ends there.

Go green. A hand-crafted glass totem pole glistens in the sun light. Images by Diane Morey Sitton.

Look around. Totems crafted of colorful glass plates, saucers, and vases sparkle in the sunlight. Totems consisting of meticulously balanced urns and jugs defy gravity. Totem poles cloaked in complex mosaic patterns challenge the imagination. But totem makers don’t stop there. In pure totem fashion, in gardens large and small, self-styled artisans stack flower pots, Jello molds, canning jars, tea pots, and even gourds in decorative columns that reach for the sky.

Messaging. Want to send a message? Write it on a totem pole.

Today’s totems are signboards for song lyrics, limericks, and messages, as well.

Crafters scrawl everything from “Explore—Dream—Discover” to “Grow your own food” to “Come what may” in vibrant colors amid their depictions of flowers, faces, and butterflies. Where function towers over form, folks use totems to display their address or simply “welcome.”

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Top of the line. A birdhouse tops this decorated totem tower.

Like Christmas trees, many contemporary totem poles flaunt a topper. Crowning glories range from birdhouses, figurines, and finials to gazing balls, sundials, and whirligigs. And when a ceramic bird just won’t do, bird lovers place a seed-filled saucer atop their totem pole to attract the real thing.

Birds, welcome! This totem-pole-inspired bird bath is a medley of pastels.

Whether they stand 2 feet tall or stretch skyward to 10 feet or more, totem poles embellish gardens year-round. When perennials rest in winter, totem poles provide focal points. When gardens awaken in spring, totem poles complement the flowers and foliage that surround them. Display a single pole to add vertical interest to borders and entrances. Arrange a cluster of three totem poles in a corner or center yard garden. For the most cohesive effect, select totems that resemble each other in materials and style. Variations in color, size, and height add visual punch.

One of a kind. Whether carved, painted, or embellished with mosaic tile, totem poles are a study in artistic expression.

Regardless of their size or style, totem poles catch the eye. And if releasing your inner artistic self while decorating your garden isn’t reason enough to carve out your own link to history, there’s this: In early culture it was said that although totem poles depicted stories, clan lineage, and celebrated events, only the carver knew the true meaning of the totem.

A secret, hiding in your garden in plain sight? You bet!

Reaching for the stars. Galveston artisan Ronna Stults stacked super-sized pots, urns, and other vessels atop one another in this blue and white totem pole.

Totem tidbits
–Europeans gave the name totemism or “totem pole” to vertical logs carved by the Pacific Northwest Coastal Indians.
–Early totems served as directional markers, memorial symbols, and welcoming signposts, among other functions.
–In true totem pole lingo, “low man on the totem pole” is actually a compliment, since native North American peoples conferred the greatest meaning and importance to those symbols closest to earth.

Note from Neil: I’ve done a bit of gluing of glass plates, goblets and such. Hobby and craft stores sell a craft glue in the brand name of E6000. It came recommended to me by a longtime crafty friend Paula LaBarr, now of Huntsville, Alabama.

Posted by Diane Morey Sitton
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