Hundreds of people from Skye and Lochalsh have been taking part in the Big Totem Draw, a colourful collaborative art event around the theme of totem poles.
A group of local artists joined up with schools and community groups to get creative in Kirkton Hall in Lochalsh as part of Big Draw 2022, the world’s largest celebration of drawing.
The event proved so popular that organiser Sarah Longley, an Irish artist who lives in Kirkton, had to extend it by several days to meet demand.
Artists invited folk to read a specially chosen poem before letting their imaginations loose to design and create their own totem poles using drawing, painting and construction.
The poem, called “Totem”, was written by Michael Longley from Belfast, one of Northern Ireland’s foremost contemporary poets and who is Sarah’s dad. It was partly inspired by Lochalsh.
Sarah explained: “The idea was that inspiration would come from the poem itself, the participants’ own lives and the natural world. In this way the rich culture, wildlife, history and folklore of Skye and Lochalsh could be expressed with colourful imagery and that is exactly what we did.
“Above all we wanted it to be fun, colourful and improvisational. We had no idea what the end result would look like. I think it’s spectacular.
“Included in the Draw are hundreds of children, from primary and secondary schools, who have brought an explosion of imaginary and real creatures to their vivid totems. Some schools have created more than one. It has been an utter delight working with them all.”
Participants learned about the indigenous art of the Pacific North-West where totem poles are used to record ancestry, people, events and stories associated with a particular family or clan.
It is hoped that in the longer term, the designs and ideas will help towards carving a real totem which will be displayed permanently in a local community space.
Among those taking part were primary schools in Auchtertyre, Plockton, Glenelg, Loch Duich, Kyle, Kyleakin, Broadford, Plockton High School, Portree High School, Airdferry Resource Centre, Kyleakin Connections, Lochalsh Life Drawing, Sarah’s Saturday Club, Women’s Rural Institute, West Highland College and Skye Circus Skills.
Pupils from Methodist College Belfast also took part in the exhibition, providing a link between Belfast, the home of the poet, and the West Highlands.
The local professional artists who gave their time to help out and inspire in the school sessions were Helen Robertson, Hannah Meyers, Irene Blair, Stephen Gregory and Malcolm MacKenzie.
Totem by Michael Longley is from the poet’s latest collection of work, The Slain Birds, written during lockdown and published last month by Jonathan Cape.
Article by Jackie MacKenzie.