Playing with wood in a modern yet primal way

TotemShriver_Art1Native peoples living on the islands in the South Pacific would recognize a kindred artist if they saw the bas-relief works of Ballston, Ore., woodcarver Totem Shriver. He takes hand tools to thick planks of Oregon big leaf maple, ash, spruce, cedar, black walnut and Oregon white oak to create neo-primitive woodcarvings.

With a first name like Totem and a carving style that looks passed down from tribal elders, you wonder whether the artist, 52, is Native American. He isn’t. “I did grow up around Apache and Cherokee people in Kansas and Oklahoma, but travels I’ve taken through books to Oceania and Africa have had more of an influence on my art,” says Shriver, who is also a massage therapist and an adjunct professor of 3D design at Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore. Some 20 years ago, he traded his given first name, his grandfather’s, for his adopted moniker (“I largely am Totem,” he says.)

Beginnings (left), a 4-by-21-by-24-inch piece carved out of Oregon big leaf maple, showcases his highly stylized geometric celebrations of the natural world. “There isn’t a hidden message in the piece,” he says. “I’m just playing with line and form and shape and texture. I’ll put on some free jazz—Miles Davis or Herbie Hancock—in my studio and see what I can push a piece of wood to do. I use a lot of different hand tools to create different textures and angles and shapes to allow shadows to happen. I see my wood carvings as modern, but my aesthetic sensibility comes from a different time.” Beginnings sold for $750.

Contact woodcarver Totem Shriver at His work is also available at the Freed Gallery (6119 S.W. Hwy. 101, 541-994-5600 or go to in Newport, Ore.; at the Mary Lou Zeek Gallery (335 State St., 503-581-3229 or go to; and at the Bush Barn Art Center (600 Mission St. SE, 503-581-2228 or go to in Salem, Ore.