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Peggy Bishop's ceramic totem poles take yard art to new heights 

Yard art is the bright spot in many a drab lawn, but in New Orleans it goes beyond the standard gnomes, concrete geese or plastic flamingos. Here, it's all about making a statement, which is exactly what local potter Peggy Bishop (www.peggybishoppottery.com) does with her ceramic garden totem poles.

  Bishop first took an interest in pottery when she and her husband enrolled in a class nearly a decade ago. "The class had almost 10 people in it, and there was only one wheel," Bishop says. "So I bought my own and began teaching myself at home."

  Her home studio allowed her to spend more time learning to throw cylinders and creating functional ware. Homemade coffee mugs, plates and bowls adorn her house, along with a bountiful collection of art history books.

  "I love making bowls of any size," Bishop says. "I found I liked making big things. I started making cylinders, and I made so many that I didn't know what to do with them. Finally, I started putting them on the 'No Parking' poles around the bayou. From there, the idea of garden totems just evolved."

  Producing a garden totem pole is no quick or easy task. Bishop begins by throwing clay on the wheel, shaping it into a cylinder. Once she's made five or six cylinders, the pieces are fired in a kiln at 250 degrees. Each item is then painted and stacked to complete the totem pole. "If they ever come out wrong on the wheel, I can always destroy it, and start over," Bishop says. "That's what I love about art."

  Bishop is in the process of creating a piece of art for The Ruby Slipper restaurant. In past years, she has participated in the Palmer Art Market and has had pieces showcased in the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) gift shop. In 2010, Bishop was recognized for her bayou-inspired totem poles at NOMA's Love in the Garden Celebration. Bishop has displayed and sold her work at The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and this year she sold one to Allen Toussaint. "The only problem with going out and selling the art is the weight of each piece," Bishop says. "It's hard to travel with."

  Some of her most popular sellers have Louisiana themes. The pelican and reddened black fish top some poles. Bishop's "Space Travel" totem pole starts with Earth, followed with a rocket and is topped with the sun. Her totem poles range from 4 to 6 feet in height.

  Bishop describes her work as "serious but unpretentious art." A garden totem pole is a way for anyone to add color, whimsy and fun to their front lawn, Bishop says. The totem poles have become her biggest seller, but she says she doesn't do it for the business. "I like creating the work, and that's why I do what I do," Bishop says. "I'm not much of a businesswoman. The business is just a way to get my work out there."

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