Totem poles are monumental sculptures carved from large trees, using mostly Western Red Cedar, by cultures of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America. The word totem is derived from the Ojibwe word odoodem, “his kinship group”. The meanings of the designs are as varied as the cultures that make them. They may recount familiar legends, clan lineages, or notable events. Some poles celebrate cultural beliefs, but others are mostly artistic presentations. Certain types of totem poles are part of mortuary structures, and incorporate grave boxes with carved supporting poles, or recessed backs for grave boxes.
As mentioned in Wikipedia, Poles illustrate stories that commemorate historic persons, represent shamanic powers, or provide objects of public ridicule. “Some of the figures on the poles constitute symbolic reminders of quarrels, murders, debts, and other unpleasant occurrences about which the Native Americans prefer to remain silent”… The most widely known tales, like those of the exploits of Raven and of Kats who married the bear woman, are familiar to almost every native of the area.
Despite all of this, it appears that Totem poles were never objects of worship. The association with “idol worship” was an idea from local Christian missionaries of the nineteenth century, who considered their association with Shamanism as an occult practice.
Poles used for public ridicule are usually called “shame poles“, and were created to shame individuals or groups for unpaid debts. They are often placed in prominent locations. Shame poles are rarely discussed today, and their meanings have been forgotten in many places.
In the original Addam’s Family TV series (Episode 18 – Addam’s Family Splurges) , Cousin Nanook sent a totem pole to the Family for Christmas and wanted their bear in return.
Needless to say, these poles are art and I classify them was Woodworking art. For further examples check this page.