Gretchen Potts Artist Statement (Totem series)

     While researching my family's history, I began to realize the strength of character and soul to which I was born. Discovering this history has played a large part in my realizing who I am. My work reflects my new found pride in myself and my family.

     The Totem series is a group of works of pole forms that are different heights and widths.
I use various media such as clay, metal, paper and wood to construct these forms. To reveal my identity, I print family photographs and documentation of their history onto the forms. The faces and lives of my family, or people of my heritage, represent the standards to which I live my life.

      Totem Poles of the Native American peoples of the Pacific Northwest were used to tell stories, pay tribute and honor their families and ancestors. I use these forms in the same way. I refer to these structures as totems because of what they represent. I print transfers or photocopies of family and ancestral photographs as well as maps, land deeds, marriage licenses and other types of documents onto them that tell the story of my family.

     I present my identity and heritage by showing this group of work in an installation with sounds and voices of my surroundings in Oklahoma. The two together create a visual sound environment. This installation is set up so the viewers have to walk around and through the totems to view them individually and hear the voices of my ancestors.

     This installation allows for two perceptions. Firstly, the viewer is allowed to see and experience my journey to self-discovery. They many not understand the history as I do, but they do see the immense history which I have to look back to for strength. Secondly, I am allowed to see their perception of myself and family as opposed to how I perceive it to be. This allows for interaction and discussion with the viewer that other installations may not.

      My work is a product of overcoming the fear of facing the self-discovery that life demands of us. I realize that a crucial part of being content in life is to discover where our values and strength originate. Discovery of who you are and why leads to knowledge and power.

Gretchen Potts

Click here to view the Totem series