To say that all Totems are created equal would not be accurate.
Hell, to say that they’re all created the same way wouldn’t even come close either. There’s as much variation in this as there are people that would consider making one. Or a hundred.
The nature of Totemic work is putting something into visual, physical form that you want to see, share, and strengthen.
In my case I choose to do them in high end fine jewelry. Why?
Maybe it’s because I started in jewelry back in 2003 at a summer course in Portland. At the O.C.A.C. campus I sat at work bench usually occupied by college students and felt like a little god. I could make anything.
Except for I had never done it before, and it turned out significantly more difficult than I expected.
I made a plain, solid, definitely-not-symmetrical thumb ring in sterling silver, and when it came to the sand-casting project I drew a blank. All of the Lord of the Rings replicas and crazy ideas I had been dreaming of went out the window. I was bottle necked by my utter lack of skill.
I ended up using some sculpy clay to make what my sixteen year old mind approximated was an alien fetus, and stuck cherry pits in it for eyes. Felt pretty creative with that but in hindsight I’m pretty sure the teacher thought I was weird as fuck.
And thus began the long road to fine jewelry.
I got a little more advanced with a class at the Portland Community College. Drove my ’65 mustang over to Newburg once a week and made some pretty generic stuff.
But I was hooked.
Next was University of Oregon. Where I battled the “establishment” of one extremely conceptually minded professor as I asked “how do I do this?” and she replied “tell me what it means first”. We went through rounds of “you first, no you first” until eventually I settled on not pleasing her in the slightest and accepting my B- and C+ grades.
Yes, Cedric the totemic fine jewelry metaphyst got C+ grades in Jewelry class.
Had I been brave enough to do with the concept what I do now, I could have skipped all of that drama. But I wasn’t there yet. I had convinced myself that I had to get a “real job” making “regular jewelry”.
Obviously that’s hogwash. But it served a valuable purpose.
After University I graduated into the 2008 economic collapse. Getting a level 1 apprentice level bench jeweler position that year was a laughable prospect, so I went for a Blacksmithing apprenticeship instead.
I’d already been dabbling with blacksmithing since 2001, with minimal success, but I did spend a summer in a knifesmithing apprenticeship before University so it wasn’t a stretch.
Forgot to mention that.
There’s a lot of metallurgy and crystal-structure science that goes into making an object that is seemingly just a thin piece of metal for cutting food. When I got to University it astounded me that metallurgy and alloying wasn’t really a part of the curriculum.
Either way, I survived both, and found myself spending every week over at Flashing Forge with Alan.
We made everything from counter tops to staircase railings to decorative finials. I beat his time on a repetitive wing-design cold chasing job by nearly half…
and he made me look like a five year old whenever we used the 16 foot tall, might-be-a-train-motor please-don’t-crush-me power hammer. I learned a lot about blacksmithing in that time.
I also learned a lot about living on my own terms.
When do we work? When we’re done with breakfast.
When is breakfast? After we wake up.
When do I wake up? Whenever the hell you want.
After three University years of intensely balancing my time to avoid failing any one class at the cost of lower-than-A grades in a few, I needed to be shown that I could, in fact, be my own authority. Something I’d lost track of.
Eventually it was time to go find paid work, and through the grape vine and some lovely friends, I landed that apprentice bench position that was probably impossible to get, in the summer of 2008.
I felt competent but not confident.
I felt capable but not clear headed.
I surely thought I was doing alright. Hell, I had a bladesmithing, blacksmithing, and jewelry apprenticeship under my belt, along with the 3 years of every-day-jewelry-class University level chaos.
Two weeks into the job, Steve Douglas pulled me aside in his small but highly effective professional studio and informed me that I was doing “OK”, but that while two pieces a week might have worked at university… and it sure as hell wasn’t going to work there. He was nice about it. But where I was finishing two jobs a week, which was already ten times what we were assigned at Uni, he wanted me to finish two jobs before lunch.
But he’d settle for two a day.
That was a wake up call. A polite but rough entry into the professional world. I went at it with an obsessive level of intent. I would get that two-a-day damnit.
You’re probably wondering how this has anything to do with Totems…