Assign each student an Indian symbol such as whale, shark, raven or thunderbird. Give each student a round paper plate. Employing the Indian techniques of dissection, rearrangement of parts and distortion have each student fit their symbol into the restrained area of the circle. Encourage students to think like the Indians and mimic their highly decorative style, reminding them to avoid straight lines, vacant space, and sharp angles. This exercise will help prepare students for the last lesson which will involve constructing and decorating their own individual totem pole.
The Indian artist was always conscious of the skeletal form. Each joint such as a knee or elbow was represented by an eye form. If the joint was large the eye form became a face. Empty spaces were always filled with either eyes, flicker feather designs or toads. It is difficult to separate space fillers from main characters unless one is familiar with the tale the pole represents. Animals and supernatural beings were carved with ears prominently placed on the tops of their heads while humans had their ears carved on the sides of the heads.
The Indians believed birds, insects, fish and animals could become human at will. In their art, there is always a clue to expose the artist’s intent. If an artist were portraying a whale in human form:, he might place a blow hole in the forehead; a raven in human form would be a face with a beak; an octopus might be a face with tentacles for eyebrows.