Totems is an early work where I was just beginning to experiment with different woods and using various tools. At this particular time in my career, I was aiming for something alive and surprising.
The two locust saplings that I had chosen to make my Totems posed a structural challenge: how to cut the “teeth” on the inside of the saplings. Eventually the solution came to me: cut the saplings vertically down the middle, completely apart, then cut the teeth, then reattach the saplings with three large screws.
When the parts were put together, I noticed that I liked the screws showing. I made no effort to hide them. The use of visible bolts and staples became part of my vocabulary from then on. Some of my larger pieces, Lament for example, have 10 or 12 functioning metal parts, holding together the sculpture.
I began by making sure the two saplings stood well together, and then I made two parallel vertical cuts down the middle of each. There was a blemish on one of the shafts, and I made sure to face it to the outside so that it was a visible part of the design, showing a touch of nature's whimsical way. At the same time, one of the shafts sprung apart with internal tension, giving my composition an additional variant that helped to distinguish one piece from the other. This variant also introduced the element of movement into the work.
Now that the locusts were split, it was time to make the teeth. I did not know how wide to make each cut so that the segments would not break. Here I was just following my nose. The most “creative” part of the project was forming an irregular contour for the teeth, which I tried to do with a hammer, but was not satisfied. A sledge hammer did the trick just fine, providing good proportion between the ribs and the hollows. The final look was alive and surprising.
The piece was shown at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art in Richmond, Virginia in 1990 and later at the Philippe Staib Gallery in New York City in 1991.