Totally Totems Take Over the de Young Summer Art Camp

Guest-blogger Ashley Harris takes us into the world of "Totally Totems," the theme of week three at the de Young Summer Art Camp.


Last week, the art studios in the de Young’s tower were bustling with activity that proved quite the feast for the eyes and the imagination. Young artists at the museum’s Summer Art Camp transformed a plethora of fascinating art materials in exploration of the theme "Totally Totems."


Tables overflowed with inspiring objects including string, wooden beads, feathers, corks, embossing metal, cardboard cylinders, metal tins, and raffia. By the end of the week, campers had invented new ways to use these materials, creating artworks that held power, symbolism, and meaning.

Table materials

The Apprentices, our youngest group of artists, created layered cardboard masks using a series of steps and processes. First, sketches were made  of the masks on view in the de Young’s Oceanic and African galleries.

In gallery

Artists were encouraged to create many quick sketches that would allow them to capture the essence of the objects.


Back in the studio, the Apprentices used these sketches to create a large template, which they then used to cut out cardboard shapes with which they constructed their mask forms.

Mask making

The masks seemed to come alive as artists added color, detail, and texture with paint, beads, raffia, and feathers.


The Apprentices also practiced sculptural techniques while creating many other powerful and functional objects like wearable, metal embossed amulets and drums filled with shells and scented sand.


Members of this youngest group were quite visionary and resourceful as they worked both collaboratively and independently to bring their ideas to life.


The Artisans, the de Young’s older group of artists, also created artworks by building up methods and materials. Totem poles were explored in various forms starting with concept sketches using white charcoal pencils on black paper. Artists then used these drawings as references to create colorful, acrylic painted renderings of their totem poles.

Totem poles

Artisans also constructed a variety of sculptural works during the week, building totem temples with cardboard foundations and an outer “skin” of glue and tracing paper. Small, clay animal figurines were then sculpted and nestled within the finished temples.


The Artisans went on many adventures during camp, both in the museum galleries and in the studio. One such quest led them to their power animal and inspired them to create drawn portraits of their own personal creature companions. How the artists found their power animals—and where they ventured—remain the most magical and mysterious journeys of all!