Art For Life – Ceramic Totems

Over the past 3 weeks, artist Bill Nybo has been working with residents of Ave Maria Village to create colorful ceramic totems. Eighteen residents participated to create the two 3 1/2 foot collaborative sculptures. These works will be on display in the Ave Maria Village community room.

making the clay cylinder
making the clay cylinder

This project had many steps with Nybo and the Arts Center’s Art for Life coordinator, Sally Jeppson constructing the ceramic forms (essentially super-sized beads), then allowing them to leather-dry for handling, carving and embellishing. That’s where the Ave Maria elders began the process of making faces, flowers, abstract designs or whatever their imagination could  provide. They learned the “scratch and slip” method of attaching additional clay parts to their cylinders. Everyone got dirty and seemed to have a fun once they “took the plunge.” The hardest part for everyone was deciding what to do. It’s every artist’s dilemma when confronted with a blank canvas, sheet of paper or unadorned vessel and for the non-artist its even more daunting.


The clay bead/cylinders were then transported back to the Hansen Studio and fired in a kiln. Once this step was complete, they went back to Ave Maria one week later and elders painted them with low-fire, brightly colored glazes. The beauty of these glazes is, the color you see is the color you get, which is quite different from some of the high-fire glazes, that look completely different from what comes out of the bottle. This allowed elders to control how their final design would look. Their glazed pieces then got a clear top coat and went back in the kiln for their final firing.

IMG_4423During the last day of the project the elders were able to see their finished cylinder and the totem was assembled for all to see. The next step will be some fine tuning to make each section more secure and then installation of the art totem in the community space for the enjoyment of all the residents, staff and their families.

This project is part of the Arts Center’s Art for Life program which is funded by the North Dakota Council on the Arts.

FYI: The totem is supported by a cardboard-sleeved, 2″ pvc pipe embedded in a base of quick drying concrete. This sculpture could also be displayed outside in a sheltered location where it wouldn’t be subject to hail damage.

The Culture Builds Community blog is submitted (almost) weekly by The Arts Center Gallery Manager Sally Jeppson. Jeppson is also the Arts Center’s Art for Life Coordinator. She would love to hear your comments here or email