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ARGENTA - The totem pole outside Kimler Gymnasium at Argenta-Oreana High School looms over the hallway, with the fierce visages of warriors, a hawk, a bulldog and others, depicted on it.

A totem, instructs framed information at its foot, is a kinship group and shows symbols of a clan or family, indicating lineages. This particular totem includes the mascots of all the schools in the Okaw Valley Conference and was created by members of Jeanne Irby's art class.

"I sort of just made up the idea," she said. "We always do group projects, and I thought about a totem pole. Last year, we did African masks and researched masks, and this year, I thought we'd do a totem of some type, and I just happened to think, 'We'll do our conference school mascots,' and it worked out."

A length of PVC pipe runs down the center to give it stability, while cardboard tubes of the kind used for concrete forms provide the base for the papier-mache heads of the mascots. Irby separated the students into groups of two and three, and each chose a mascot to make, from Argenta-Oreana's "Bomber Guy" at the top to the hawk on the bottom that represents Meridian.

Irby said the positions of the mascots on the totem pole are not in a hierarchy, and, in fact, the idea that the "low man on the totem pole" also is the lowest in the pecking order is inaccurate.

The mascots' positions on this totem pole were chosen for aesthetic reasons - their size, school colors, how they all fit together attractively - and on historic totem poles, the lowest figure often is the most honored.

National Public Radio's Web site says totem poles were a way to share family history and advertise how wealthy and respected a family was. Most were carved from one long log. Between the late 1900s and the 1960s, the art nearly died out, as American Indian totem poles were taken and put into museums and the people were scattered. But in the 1960s, scholars began to revive the art, and today, artisans still use many of the original techniques.

In the case of the totem pole at Argenta-Oreana High School, it represents how connected the schools in Okaw Valley are and, though they do compete on the athletic field, behind it all, they're still united.

"After they got it all done and painted, I got my husband involved," Irby said with a laugh. She recruited him to come to the school with her on a weekend to set up the totem pole, and he made the wooden base that supports it, while a school custodian attached some fishing line to the top and tied that to the ceiling beams to help keep it steady.

Jimmy Estell, one of the students who worked on the project, joked that the freshmen are fascinated and have been trying to figure out how the totem pole was made. The hardest part on his portion, the St. Teresa Bulldog, was making the spikes on the dog's collar stand up.

"It was a real fun project, and it didn't take that long," Jimmy said. "I think it looks great."

Andrew Patterson and Clayton Creamer worked on the Maroa-Forsyth Trojan. The Trojan boasts a very strong chin that was originally going to be his lower lip but, Andrew said, it didn't look right like that.

"So I made an upper lip to match it," he said. "I took tape to make it bulge out a little more. It turned out better than I thought it was going to be."

"I thought it was going to be hideous," Clayton said.

Valerie Wells can be reached at vwells@herald-review.com or 421-7982.

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