Talker of the Town discovers a Totem pole’s missing bird’s head! With help from Nazareth College’s Department of Creative Arts Therapy


One morning several years ago after a sleety early winter night, Nazareth College security found the dislodged ceramic bird’s that had been perched atop the Totem pole outside the Wellness Center.

Rumor has it students, possibly having been drinking, (certainly not Nazareth students; some scofflaws from St. John Fisher must have been lurking), were trying to steal the artifact. The broken head could not be then fixed and replaced.

Actually, I believe that the Totem pole spirit prevented the “students” from escaping with head in hand. I believe the spirit also cursed the vandals.  Now doomed to a career of misfortune. Caught plagiarizing. Meal plan tickets stolen. Given a roommate from hell. Until the head is properly returned, their GPA will never rise above 2.0.

But talk of spirits and curses would be spreading rumors.

It did take some intrepid sleuthing to find the head.  False leads, some phone calls, a little marching around campus.  Finally, I came to the Art Therapy Office where I was taken to the misbegotten object.

But, most importantly, I was able to learn more about the Totem pole itself and the work done in the Creative Arts Therapy program.


Photo: Elizabeth Mott

The history and meaning of the pole was explained by faculty member Elizabeth Mott (ATR BC, LCAT), the Art Therapy Clinic Manager/Art Therapy Clinical Internship Coordinator.

The Totem pole is a monument of many Native American cultures, especially those specific to the American Northwest, and often represent families, histories, or events that are important to the community.

The Totem Pole next to the York Wellness and Rehabilitation Institute was created by art therapy students in the Graduate Art Therapy program at Nazareth College. It was created several years ago by students studying with Dr. Ellen Horovitz as a project culminating their semester’s work. The pole is made up of individual sculptures created by each student using clay, carving tools, and their hands. Each of the sculptures represents symbolically the students vision of their role in the communal experience.  The art therapy students created the Totem pole with the intention of emulating this historic process and commemorating their own development of community and common purpose.

Working together, learning, sharing, and creating something bigger then ourselves, (literally!) in support of the greater community is part of the Nazareth tradition.

An eloquent testament to the commitment, intellectual depth and creativity of our Art Therapy students who use art to heal and nourish mind and body — and soul.

On a happy note, Mott adds:

The top of the pole, for safe keeping, was removed during the construction process at the YWRI. Now that construction is done it will be reinstalled!

Curse to be lifted!

More on Nazareth:

The underground history of Nazareth College with President Daan Braveman

On the Thomas Merton Room and the 100th Anniversary of his birth

At the 2015 World’s Parliament of Religions in Salt Lake City with Nazareth College’s Dr. Muhammad Shafiq