Jan. 15–Nov. 27, 2022
at the Burchfield Penney Art Center
Totem, a word with its roots in Objibwa, an indigenous (Algonquin) language, has grown to take on a multitude of meanings. It originally signified an emblem that gave a family or tribe its name. Over centuries of English-speaking use, the word has been applied to people, places, and things that have significance for a variety of reasons. For example, the late civil rights activist John Lewis has been referenced as a totem for other activists and politicians who have taken up his causes. The Burchfield Penney Art Center has chosen to use the term to gather work from its collection that resonate with spiritual power or symbolic meaning. The show is mainly focused on sculpture, with a few two-dimensional inclusions. While many are solemn—like Jack Solomon’s Black Power, a bronze interpretation of the raised fist design—other are playful, including the Southtown Wood Carvers’ delightful painted wood Circus Pole. A couple works —including Gene Vass’s untitled wooden carved poles—seem to be taking up the formal concept of a totem pole, without too much other baggage. As is common in many museums, BPAC is finding ways to introduce visitors to its large and varied collection by giving them an intriguing concept to ponder as they enjoy viewing the works. There’s plenty to enjoy: media range from smooth alabaster to rustic fiber to beautifully grained wood. The artists include Rosemarie Castoro, Wilhelmina Godfrey, Ron Meyers, Richard Nephew, Ken Payne, George Smith, and Alan Van Every, in addition to those mentioned.