Why Is There A Totem Pole On Peckham Rye?

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 14 months ago
Why Is There A Totem Pole On Peckham Rye?

If you've ever crossed Peckham Rye Common via East Dulwich Road, you may have noticed this beautifully carved wooden totem pole.

It's an impressive sculpture, with four larger-than-life humans crafted into the main body. A larger, duplex human head sits on top of the figures; one (with a joyous, toothy grin) face peering out onto the common, the other watching the traffic chug past between Nunhead and East Dulwich.

On top of that is a globe, an equator of people holding hands around it. The pinnacle of the totem pole is a wooden cross. On first glance, it appears to be a four way signpost — apt, as the totem pole sits between two sets of crossroads — but closer inspection reveals it to be wings.

The detail continues at floor level — glum looking faces peer out between booted legs.

It's said the wings represent William Blake's vision of angels of Peckham Rye; the eyes behind the legs are inspired by Gustav Klimt, and the duplex head represents the duality of human emotion. To learn more, watch this (rather windy) video.

But what's the totem pole doing there?

It's a relatively new addition to the area, having been carved by sculptor and painter Morgan Ico and unveiled in early 2014. Why Peckham? The carving was created from a fallen plane tree that already stood on the spot.

The base is carved from the plane tree, while the globe and wings apparently came from a Kentish chestnut tree. You can see photos of those being carved separately on Ico's Facebook page.

Here's what the tree used to look like before the carving took place.

Ico is responsible for several other public artworks around London, including the peace sculpture at the Imperial War Museum and a Borough High Street mural.

See also:

Last Updated 23 May 2017