Skip to main content

Ask the Experts: Whimsical folk art totem could fetch $400-$600

A reader's inquiry about a unique totem pole, purchased in 1947, prompts Ask the Experts' panelist Dr. G. Marchelos to conclude it is a piece of folk art, that may be worth $400-$600.

QThis totem pole was purchased by my father at an auction in Northwestern Wisconsin in about 1947. It is carved out of a two-by-two, and the arms and the ears were carved separately and attached by wire.

Any information about who made this or where this was made would be greatly appreciated. Would there be any value, even as a folk art item?
— G.T.
Clayton, Wis.


A This totem made out of a two-by-two inch board is probably pine. One would first assume this has something to do with Native American art from the region, but it does not have the look or feel of this type of art. Instead, it is folk art. As it is also stated that the ears and arms were carved separately and then added to the overall design.

The combination of details and features, together with the pattern of the artistic design, point toward a connection with circuses or a carnival. The gentleman who inquired about the totem also states his father purchased it in 1947, in northwest Wisconsin. Not too far away is Baraboo, Wisconsin, home to several famous circuses at the time, or just before. Also, at this time Kewpie dolls were popular, especially in this setting. Although normally made of celluloid or plaster painted in bright colors, this totem has the feel of that type of item and that influence.

Obviously, someone had a design and spent some time carving and fitting the pieces together. Whether other similar items were made or exist, we do not know. In any case, it is folk art and would sell in the right venue for $400 to $600 to someone who likes folk art, whimsies or one-off pieces.


QI saw your ad for Ask the Experts in a March 2015 issue of Antique Trader. 
Enclosed please find a photo of a pedestal that has been in my family since 1940. I have no idea what it might be or what it may be worth. It’s in excellent condition.
— C.S.
Altamont, N.Y.


A The item is a pedestal for flowers. Originally, it had a matching large bowl which sat on top to hold the plants. It is probably ceramic; although, it is not possible to tell from the photos. It also is probably hand tinted. While it is not majolica, with its rich colors, it is pottery made elsewhere from the period.

C.S. states that it is in excellent condition. We cannot tell without an in person inspection much else about the origin, condition or age. It has the look of items from Italy, Spain, Portugal, or Mexico. These items are still widely purchased and used. With that being the case, several hundred dollars would be a fair price.

About our columnist:
Dr. G. Marchelos is an honors graduate and certified appraiser of the Asheford Institute of Antiques. Additionally, Dr. Marchelos has a PhD in history, is a professor of antiquities at the University of Alabama, and is a nationally recognized appraiser working for both private and public institutions across North America. Dr. Marchelos is also a well established antiques dealer, operating both in the U.S. and Europe.

Weekly Showcase



Over 100 YEARS of Chinese History - Our pristine Jade Collection is extensive and beautiful!  Please visit our web site to get an idea of how beautiful this collection is.