Stephenson Showcase: Sheldon Shalley’s “Totems and Nature’s Magic”

Stephenson Showcase: Sheldon Shalley’s “Totems and Nature’s Magic”

By Sheldon Shalley

Sheldon Shalley
ArtByShalley.com

Once upon a time we humans understood that we were part of nature and nature was a part of us. There was no separation between us and the natural world. We were one. We also understood that all nature was inhabited with a spirit and that we could communicate directly with the spirits in nature.

In the past shamans were the keepers of this sacred knowledge. They were the ones that reminded us that all nature is divine, and all nature speaks to us if we but listen. The ancients would often adopt the appearance of animals, wearing skins and masks to identify with the specific energies of that animal.  To the ancients every aspect of nature was alive with a power that could connect us to the invisible world of spirit.

Such practices may seem primitive and even silly to us moderns. But they are no less powerful today. The laws that governed them—the unity of the physical world of matter and the energetic world of spirit—are no less relevant.

Totems symbolize the belief in a spiritual connection to nature. A totem is a natural object, usually an animal but may be a plant or any object in nature that we feel a strong connection to. According to tradition, we don’t choose our totem animal. Your totem animal chooses you. A totem animal is often a guide and teacher on your spiritual journey. Native beliefs further explain that a totem animal is one that is with you for lifetime. Totems can act as spiritual guides throughout our lives and provide a significant amount of self-discovery They can be avenues of self-awareness and self-expression, even unveiling the meaning of our true self.

Since ancient times, animals have served as indications of the personality traits that humans seek to achieve. Animals are some of the most powerful and strongest symbols in the human’s spiritual toolbox. With the incorporation of animal totems into our daily lives, we can reaffirm our spiritual goals. We can focus internally on the attributes that our totems represent and externally live the character that our totems give us.

We can use animal imagery and other nature totem images as a way to learn about ourselves and the invisible world. We do not have to believe that these images and totems are beings of great intelligence, but rather that there are archetypal powers that reside behind and oversee all manifestations in Nature. We can connect to these archetypal powers.

One of the ways that I connect to these nature totems and archetypal powers found in nature is through my paintings. I was first instructed to paint in a dream in 2002. In that dream I am invited to a family’s home for dinner. After dinner the host says that we are going to paint. I tell him that I do not know how to paint, but he doesn’t seem to care. He gets out canvases, brushes, paints and we start painting. I start by swirling paint onto a large canvas. As I paint, I notice that images are appearing. It was like the painting process in the dream was teaching me how to paint. I was in a dream group at the time and when I told them the dream they said, “You have to paint.”  So, following the dream, I started painting. At first there was very little detail in my paintings, but slowly over time, the detail began to emerge into the way I paint today.

In 2009, again at the promptings of my dreams, I began training in shamanic healing and energy medicine. As part of that training, I learned to journey into the invisible world of non-ordinary reality and interact with the spirit guides, power animals and other spirit beings that live there. Over time my paintings evolved to include images met in dreams, images met in meditation and images met in shamanic journeys. These images appear in my paintings as a way for me to honor, interact with and integrate them into consciousness as well as an opportunity to build relationships with them as totems in the greater sense of spirit beings in non-ordinary reality as met in my shamanic journeys.

For example, in a recent journey into the background of a canvas I met a wolf. According to Native American custom, Wolf helps us find the way to the deepest levels of self of inner knowing and intuition. Native Americans have long regarded wolves as teachers or pathfinders. Wolf brings the gifts of self-reliance, endurance, and keen intelligence. Wolf brings the totem energies of freedom and companionship. Wolf brings the magic of extraordinary intuition and telepathy. Here is my painting to honor the wolf totem.

The paintings presented in Totems and Nature’s Magic is my way of both honoring and connecting to the animals and flowers that came to me in a dream, during meditation, in a shamanic journey or spoke to me while on a walk or simply appeared to me as I stared into the background that I had painted.  

As you view my paintings in this exhibit, Totems and Nature’s Magic, I invite you to let them speak to you from the imagination of your own soul. When viewed this way, art opens portals between the worlds, transcending ordinary time and space and can be avenues for connecting with your totem or nature’s magic.


Sheldon Shalley’s exhibit, “Totems and Nature’s Magic” is on exhibit in the Stephenson House on the Nickel Plate Arts campus from April 1 through 30. The gallery is free and open to the public Wednesday-Friday 12pm to 5pm and Saturday from 10am-5pm. Artwork can be purchased by contacting Nickel Plate Arts or ordering on your phone with the QR codes at the gallery. Meet Sheldon in-person at his reception during First Friday on April 1 from 6pm-9pm at Nickel Plate Arts.  

Les Reinhardt
lreinhardt@nickelplatearts.org