Carve Your Own Totem Pole.


132 pages
Contains Illustrations
ISBN 978-1-55046-466-5
DDC 731'.7





Photos by Bev McMullen
Reviewed by Joan A. Lovisek

Joan A. Lovisek, Ph.D., is a consulting anthropologist and
ethnohistorian in British Columbia.


This book is exactly what the title suggests. It is an instruction manual about how to design and carve your own totem pole in Northwest Coast style. But that does not do the book justice. It is a large-format, high-quality production, replete with full colour photography on virtually every page, templates and written directions, advice, and lots of style. Although it includes specific advice, it seems unlikely that a novice could learn to design and carve using this book alone without experienced guidance, though the authors assure the reader that if you can draw, you are ready to start carving. They recommend starting with smaller projects like a paddle, to gain some experience. The purpose of this book should not to be confused with creating the artwork at which First Nations excel, and the authors do not purport to compete with the Native art form. They note that it was the arrival of Europeans and the introduction of metal tools on the Northwest Coast that influenced how First Nations made totem poles. Any concerns about cultural appropriation are a non-issue. The authors encourage readers to make symbols and stories on their poles which are meaningful to them, illustrating by somewhat unusual example how a cell phone and skis have been used in modern poles.


On the design side, the five basic shapes used by Northwest Coast carvers are clearly illustrated and include the circle, U form, S forms, Ovid, split U, and trigon. How these shapes are combined to create images is demonstrated, as is making faces, which is acknowledged as a challenging task for any artist. The instruction leads the reader through a process of carving through first cuts, chiselling and gouging, knife work, stippling, and sanding. The book includes instructions for carving practice with detailed illustrations of basic human and animal patterns. All of this guided preparation ultimately leads to the final objective—carving a totem pole. This is a book worth reading for those interested in the mechanics of carving totem poles, even if carving a pole is not on the agenda.


Hill, Wayne, and James McKee., “Carve Your Own Totem Pole.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 24, 2024,