* em [noun]:
First appeared circa 1776.
1 a] an object serving as the emblem of a family or clan and often as a reminder
of its ancestry; also : a usu. carved or painted representation of such an object.
b] a family or clan identified by a common totemic object.
2 a] something that serves as an emblem or revered symbol.
David Shearer, founder
The inspiration for Totem came about as a result of a conversation I had
with Ray Eames about 13 years ago. Over the course of their lives, Ray and
husband Charles collected objects from people and places that they would
keep as a reminder of their travels and interactions.
These physical pieces, or totems as Ray described them, had a profound
effect on their environment and psyche and I'm sure influenced the designs
that came from the Eames studio. Totem Design Group was founded on the
belief that our existence, physical and even spiritual, can be enhanced by
the objects in our lives.
Totem opened its first gallery in 1997, in the Tribeca area of lower
Manhattan. We created a new type of retail experience that combined
education with accessibility. This interactive environment continually
changed with various design exhibitions and events that brought the best
design to our audience. Making top European designers available in the US
market while nurturing the strongest young American designers created a
positive force in the design community.
In 1990 Totem opened Totem Gallery in Soho. The blur between art and design
was the focus with a series of groundbreaking exhibitions that featured
designers who viewed themselves as artists and artists who used design as a
medium. Up and coming as well as influential designers and artists were
given the opportunity to express their ideas and seminal exhibitions such as
Design Raw, Douglas Coupland, Easy Dutch were mounted- check out the archive
of exhibitions from the link of the home page.
Totem was also very multimedia. From its website to the publications and
the documentaries produced there was always the idea of using education as a
marketing tool to expose the public to good design. First DSGN, a "magalog"
or "catazine" was produced that featured Totem products with educational
editorial tidbits. Then, the full-blown TOTEM magazine hit the stands with
a full range of editorial and photo stories developed specifically for the
design savvy or the knowledge seeking reader. Check out the online version.
TotemTV was launched shortly there after will interviews and short
documentaries on design and designers. The documentary "Designers On
Design" directed by Yvette Chapparo and produced by Totem, interviewed over
100 designers from Philippe Starck to Karim Rashid and Marc Newson at
locations around the world. Design fairs in Milan, Paris, Tokyo and London
were featured in addition to our home town of New York. The documentary was
screened at the Tribeca Grand Hotel Theater in 2000.
Totem was also instrumental in helping to promote American design overseas.
Working with Surface Magazine, David Shearer curated a group of American
designers called "TAG" that were featured at an exhibition in Milan during
the annual Salone in 2000. Surface continues this concept to this day and
features the best America has to offer.
Unfortunately the events of 9/11 and the resulting downturn in the economy
forced Totem to close both its spaces. This website is a record of Totem's
accomplishments and a testament to the designers and manufacturers that we
had the pleasure of working with over the years. David Shearer continues to
curate exhibitions, produce documentaries, write about design, speak at
design symposia and promote the concept that good design should be a part of
our daily lives.