Using slides and pictures, in my first lesson I will have students look at then analyze, the totem pole. Included in the bibliography is a suggested list of slides and pictures suitable for study. For this analysis I will follow a system of methodology developed by Jules David Prown in his article entitled, “Mind in Matter: An Introduction to Material Culture Theory and Method”. “There are three analytic stages involved in this methodology, Description, Deduction, and Speculation.”
The first step in our analysis is
. As a class, we will describe and list all the physical characteristics such as height, approximate weight, materials, and construction. These descriptions must be restricted to what the students can observe in the object itself. After completely describing the physical characteristics, we will locate, describe, and list all visible iconography. In dealing with the iconography it is important for students to refrain from drawing comparisons with images from their own culture. To keep it to just what the object itself provides as evidence, discourage students from using the phrase, “that looks like”. Continuing with our description, we will analyze the totem pole form by describing the twodimensional organization (lines and area) and the threedimensional organization of the forms in space. Describing color, light, and texture will conclude our descriptive stage of analysis. As a result of this descriptive analysis, students should develop a heightened sense of awareness or consciousness which will be helpful later in recognizing their own cultural symbols. It also provides the teacher with an opportunity to reinforce art terms such as two and threedimensional, texture, and color related terms (values and hues).
The second stage of our analysis is
. In this stage, encourage students to interact with the totem pole. Ask them to imagine themselves with the pole; what do they think, how does it smell, how would it taste, how does it make them feel? Do the bird images suggest flight; do fish images suggest water or swimming? Are important figures placed on top, or are they the base upon which all other figures rely? Lots of deductions are possible. Using common sense, these deductions should be reasonable and generally expressed and accepted by the entire class. As a result of the analysis, many questions will surface and students will want answers.
The last stage of analysis deals with
. Review with the students what they learned or extracted in the descriptive and deductive stages and help them to come up with an explanation or hypotheses as to the totem pole’s function or purpose for existing.
Most of my students have not developed the necessary skills to deal comfortably in the abstract. They will want to know if their speculations are on target. They will want to know if they are “right”. For the teacher to substantiate, deny, or clarify the students’ speculations, I have included important background information on the Northwest Coast Indian, and references for further research preparation for this unit. Lesson plans will be incorporated into the narrative which follows.
There is much background information the teacher and student need to become familiar with to fully understand the totem pole. Knowledge of the geographical location, the Indian social structure, art, religion and tribal mythology, is important for it is out of these that the symbols arise. Nevertheless, what is most important about the information is that the students come up with these insights and understandings themselves, rather than be told or lectured about the background. Beginning with a study of the pole will help students ask the questions that will lead to them providing some of the answers themselves.
The northwestern coast of North America is the geographical area which gave birth to the totem pole. This small stretch of land from the Puget Sound to approximately 200 miles northwest of Juneau, Alaska, is only a thousand miles long and in spots only one hundred miles wide. The area is referred to as the Totempolar Region for it is the only region in the world that has produced the totem pole.
Warm Oriental ocean currents create a mild climate and produce an excess of humidity. Under these favorable climatic conditions natural vegetation and junglelike forests of cedar, spruce and fir thrive. As a result of the area’s being rich in natural resources and having an abundant food supply (such as game, salmon, fruits and berries) the local inhabitants had no need to practice agriculture. By not having to produce or cultivate their food supply, the Indians had a great deal of leisure time. This leisure time coupled with available wood as an art medium were crucial factors in the development of the totem pole.