Gary Jackson: Fire When Ready Pottery
A Chicago potter’s somewhat slanted view of clay & play
Categories: totem pole

So people have asked… “Why totem poles?”
I don’t really know why. But I do know I like making them! I like the idea
of sharing my art on a larger scale – outside in the world for everyone to enjoy.

My first set of totem poles were made as a triptych installation piece
for the garden in front of my condo. I was working on turning the entire
parkway into a perennial garden… and what better way to spruce it up
than some artwork?! So I made three soda-fired totem poles and installed
them in the garden… such as it was with such small, fledgling plants.


The totem poles survived for several years – which was of course one of my
major concerns. How long would they last? Would they survive the “elements”
who walk the city streets? And they did… for awhile. About five years.
Then for some reason, a rash of vandalism began… with the totems being
bent over occasionally. Never smashed or stolen… just bent over?!  Luckily,
the steel pole that runs up the center of the stack kept them together & intact…
and I could just bend them back up. However, after a few times, the ceramic base
segments began to pinch, crack & shatter, as did a few of the lower side pieces.
So I glued… I taped… I became embarrassed by the state they were in.
I decided to move the remaining pieces to “safer” ground.

So one of them went into our condo courtyard-backyard!
Not quite the same with a totem pole in a pot?! But enough plants surrounding…
and no one can even see the pot!!!


Another one of the totem poles went to my friend Rosene & Gerry in Peoria.
They are in fact my very first art fair friends. They were the ones across the aisle
at my very first art fair where I had NO IDEA of what I was doing. They were
very supportive, helpful & encouraging… and we’ve been friends ever since.
They have since”retired” from the art fair circuit… and have taken up “full-time”
gardening in their incredible tiered garden down by Peoria. They now do plant
sales every year… and have been very generous with their plants. Giving me
a LOT of the plants that have filled out my gardening efforts!!! So I get plants…
and they get a totem pole!


The next project was a new totem pole for a group gallery show I was doing.
It was my first glazed totem pole… and my first show using cone 6 glazes!
The look turned out great… but after the show, it needed a home?!
So it ended up with a great home in my parent’s garden!!!


Next, I did a collaborative gallery show at Lillstreet Art Center. It was called
“Collective Conversations in Clay” where we had to collaborate and “trade”
pieces with your partner to finish in our own styles. So I had to finish Emily’s
dinnerware set… and she had to finish one of my totem poles! This green totem
found it’s home in my front yard garden… it’s a little thicker… a little sturdier…
and a little less “out in the open” for the passing ne’er-do-wells. The shorter,
“soda-fired-Emily Murphy-finished” totem pole has traveled up to her new place
in Minnesota… waiting to find it’s “home” up there as she sets up her new studio.


The latest “totem” in the series?… you guessed it, my kid’s Summer Camp project.
They loved making it… they loved installing it… they loved showing it off to their
parents & friends. They loved leaving an artistic “legacy” of their time at Lillstreet.
It was great fun for all of us – and quite an endeavor for myself and my assistant
Brian to tackle with the kids during my last week at Summer Camp!

So where will the next totem pole show up?… who knows?
But I think I can promise that there will indeed be one… somewhere… sometime…



April 12th, 2012

I LOVE your totems!!!


May 20th, 2012

Have had your web site bookmarked for ages because I so love your totems.
I live in hope I can find someone who can reproduce something similar to place in the garden foreground of an amazing alpine view which I have here in N.Z.


August 13th, 2015

Your totem poles ROCK!!!! How do you attach the pots to each other — glue? Or do they stack individually and rotate around the pole as though on an axis? So creative and fun. Thanks for sharing!!

August 19th, 2015

HEY LOLO – The pots do stack on each other individually. They’re basically a cylinder with a 1″ hole in the bottom of each. I then take a steel pipe and jam it into the ground. A little cement and a level to keep it straight. Once the pipe is secure, I slip the base section over the top all the way down to the ground. Then I fill the cylinder with pea gravel before adding the second section. The gravel in the cylinder “hugs” the pipe and keeps it from wiggling off center. Then center & fill the second section with gravel, then the third, fourth, fifth and so on. About halfway up, I switch to filling the cylinder sections with foam peanuts instead. That way the weight is at the bottom, and less likely to sway from the top. If something feels like it’s not quite lining up right, I might add a dab of glue… but it’s usually not needed. I hope that explains the installation process. Good luck on your totem pole project… I think everyone should have one!!!

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