I did a totem pole sculpture in my first year of teaching many moons ago.
I got the kids into groups of 4 and we created the designs for the piece by
looking at totems, etc., and sketching out the design from four angles front,
sides and back.
I got a piece of plywood and nailed a wooden dowel 2" thick or so to the
bottom and secured it well. Using chicken wire, we formed a rough shape of the
totem leaving a hole in the top and bottom. Bending the chicken wire was easy
and we then placed newspaper and white glue strips over the wire until it had
at least three layers.
Let dry between layers. Add thicker areas and sculpt with paper or you can
use instant paper mache. Seal with a primer and paint with tempera or cheap
acrylic. Layer the totems over the pole and you have one big totem.
Art teacher, Leigh High School, San Jose, CA