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tot * 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.
Mission by 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.
Copyright © 2008 David Shearer   
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