Totem with Cane

  • William Dawson, Totem with Cane, 1978, carved and painted wood, metal, and plastic, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of David L. Davies, 1992.37.9A-B

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William Dawson carved stacks of faces from old table and chair legs before he even knew what a totem pole was. These pieces show his distinctive carved faces, with wide, staring eyes painted a stark white against different colored backgrounds. He made totems in a variety of heights depending on the piece of wood, and they can reach up to four feet.

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“I had never seen a totem. I was in the park one day. I was carving and a fellow came up and said, ‘Oh, you make totems.’ But I didn’t know what they were. My wife looked it up in a book in the library, and sure enough, I was making totems.” The artist, quoted in Folk Art Messenger, Winter 1990

Totem with Cane
overall: 37 3/4 x 10 1/8 x 10 5/8 in. (95.9 x 25.6 x 27.0 cm.) A (totem): 37 3/4 x 10 1/8 x 10 5/8 in. (95.9 x 25.6 x 27.0 cm.) B (umbrella): 33 x 3 1/8 x 1 3/8 in. (83.8 x 7.9 x 3.5 cm.)
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Gift of David L. Davies

Mediums Description
carved and painted wood, metal, and plastic
  • Dress – accessory – umbrella
Object Number
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