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Totem pole by Georganna Malloff, showing stylized people and creatures dancing round a maypole surmounted by a rainbow-painted ring; titled Cosmic Maypole. Cosmic Maypole

Dreamed 1977 by Georganna Malloff


The seed for this series of totem poles sprouted in Spring of 1976. I was meditating on maypoles, springtime, the ecstasy of dance, and community. It grew into a determination to carve a Cosmic Maypole, and that grew into a collective woodcarving project. That first Cosmic Maypole became the totem for the United Nations Conference on Habitat in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1977. Today it stands in the civic center of New Westminster, British Columbia. The pole is seventy feet tall.


In most of my work, images which come out of meditation often elicit dreams which clarify or enhance the other images. In this case, in the winter of 1977, I dreamed of animals like Mother Bear embracing humankind, mixtures of animal and human, like Pan and satyrs playing their pipes, and ancient gods like Triton blowing his horn. All the dancers, animals and humans and gods, even those who only watched and listened, were entwined with ribbons, as if we were all Morris dancers. (Here in Canada, the Celtic tradition is strong, and Morris dancing (a ritual spring dance) is very much alive.)

Also in winter 1977, some psychics in Seattle gave me a story to illustrate. As the dream images arose, I found that they fit into the story, entitled Dreamwork of the Whales: a psychic transmission story of the re-creation of the world after the great catastrophe... with the enlightened human being [in a cave] and the 9 whale families and the rest of the animal kingdom.

There is a progression from the sea to earth elements to the creatures of the sky. Here, dream, vision, meditation, and psychic transmission all came together.

The pencil drawing below shows my dream. It took two months to complete, and is one of five made on a Canada Council grant. (Another, 'Beautiful Dreamer", was carved into a large marble panel and will be shown summer 2007 in the Monarch Butterfly Sculpture Garden near Olympia, Washington).

Intricate pencil drawing of surreal creatures in a spiral dance round a treelike maypole; titled 'Cosmic Maypole Dream' by Georganna Malloff.

A lot of these images in the drawing were carved directly into the Cosmic Maypole II in spring 1977, by my assistants. (It became a tradition for us to plan a new cosmic maypole each spring and carve it that summer; we continued this into the eighties). I believe this fusion of dreams, psychic transmission and conscious planning are what made this one the most successful of the Cospoles. A dream-inspired totem pole on the Toronto waterfont by Georganna Malloff, showing people and whales. A dream-inspired totem pole on the Toronto waterfont by Georganna Malloff, showing people and whales.

It stands today in Harbourfront Park in Toronto; a whole community grew around it. This pleases me; the philosophy of the poles is that they should ideally become the archetypal center of the universe for a community, and help to build and solidify it.

--Georganna Malloff


I suspect the Cosmic Maypole series holds the record as the largest dream-inspired art project in the world! So far, at least. Any challengers out there? (No, I'm not counting Mullah Omar's destruction of the giant Buddhas in Bamiyan Valley, Afghanistan. That wasn't performance art. That was anti-art. Builders, not destroyers, please! The smashers already get enough attention.)

As some of you know, Georganna's house burned down; she's lost a lot of documentation. I've been collecting these photos of her work from odd corners of the web. The only ones I've found of Cosmic Maypole II are above, labeled as standing on Queens Quay in Toronto. If, dear reader, you are Torontan (Torontonian?) and you happen by that pole with a camera, send me some close-ups of it, will you?

Also, let me know if I've shown a photo of another pole by mistake! I've never been to Toronto, what do I know? Maybe there's a Cosmic Maypole on every corner.

Right. I wish.

--Chris Wayan Detail of a dream-inspired totem pole on the Toronto waterfont by Georganna Malloff, showing a human in a clamshell. Click to enlarge.


As you can see, I now have more photos showing some of the imagery on Cosmic Maypole II.

It's the Dreamwork of the Whales, all right! People and deer in caves or huge clamshells, whales leaping...

Here are some excerpts from the site of a Toronto group attempting to restore and maintain Cospole II:

The focal point of Little Norway Park on Bathurst Quay, Toronto, is a Western Red Cedar pole 5' diameter and 40' tall, richly carved with images of animals, people and cities; integrated by twelve dreaming whales... "The Dreamwork of the Whales" was... produced by the Ne Chi Zu Works, a group of Toronto born artists living in Vancouver, who retained artist Georganna Malloff to create the conceptual design. With the help of the Harbourfront Contemporary Art Gallery, corporate, civic and arts group sponsorships, and individual contributions and assistance totalling $90,000, this 700 year old tree was brought from the fertile soil of the Elaho river valley in BC to Toronto for its transformation by the talented hands of principal designer/sculptors Ben Barclay, Julian Bowron, Lynn Daly, Daniel Gauvin and Earl Thomlinson; aided by Georganna and several guest carvers, they donated over 4 months of their time to shape the carving. A film documented the pole's creation. It was raised by hand, by 300 volunteers, on Oct 13th, 1981.

"Dreamwork of the Whales" is a random act of kindness and also a great work of art. It has a comfortable, engaging beauty and a deep root of mystery. Unfortunately, water freezing in and enlarging the cracks and knot holes will eventually break the pole into pieces unless it is kept out...

Detail of a dream-inspired totem pole on the Toronto waterfont by Georganna Malloff, showing whales and a deer in a giant clam. Click to enlarge. Detail of a dream-inspired totem pole on the Toronto waterfont by Georganna Malloff, showing people and whales. Click to enlarge.
Cosmic Maypole 3, or Cosmic Maypole III if your search engine is Roman... A totem pole on the campus of the California College of Arts and Crafts.


Well, months have gone by, and the Toronto group interested in restoring Cosmic Maypole Two has found evidence of Cosmic Maypole 3! This one stands on the west side of campus at the California College of Arts, in Oakland, CA.

Carvings on Cosmic Maypole III include a large peacock, an eagle's head, and a Native American's head and shoulders. The back includes the motto "Education with Imagination" and the date: 1983. The pole was carved by Georganna Pearce Malloff and CCAC students to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the California College of Arts and Crafts ("And Crafts" was recently dropped from the name).

I'm not clear yet if Maypole 3 is truly dream-inspired like the earlier two; so far I haven't been able to find out how its images were chosen. Whether or not it truly is dream art, I'll keep it here--Georganna's work is so sparsely documented on the Web it's good to have all the poles in one place.

I live close enough to CCA that I may be able to shoot details of this pole myself. Stay tuned...


Anyone know about the other Cosmic Maypoles? In an email to me, Georganna said there were twelve, all told! I scoured the web and found... ambiguity. I have high hopes for several poles I found references to, but which I haven't yet visited or tracked down photos of.

Do you live near any of these? Can you photograph any of these? Help!

LISTS AND LINKS: dance - paganism - shamanism - animal people - Native Americans - pencil - sculpture - transcendent dreams - Canada: British Columbia - more by Georganna: Blue Skies and An Elk Showed Me a Sign of Peace

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