Thursday, October 21, 2010

Watercolor Image about Healing Pomo History

This watercolor painting, Black Wolf & the Pomo Girl, arose in the mysterious way that images in the Blue Coyote series arise. First the title, then a wondering what it might look like, how to paint this request from the unknown.

It isn't until after I've painted it, giving my best effort to bring it forth accurately, that I think about what it means. Often, as with this one, I'm puzzled by the elements, coming forth uncensored, with a life of their own.

Black Wolf has come to me in healing meditations as a spirit who releases what is painful, toxic, or no longer needed. The Pomo girl is dressed in the traditional tule skirt. I see her as someone who lived in the brutal times when Europeans & Americans were killing her people & destroying her land.

Black Wolf comes to release her bitterness and suffering, so that the Pomo people of today can be happy & at peace. They are by the ocean, the place where way-ya, spiritual power, is renewed. Night signifies the other side where the dead dwell, the hiddenness of Pomo history, & the creative unconscious.

The two gulls witness the dance of Black Wolf & the Pomo girl with calm approval. One is adult & the other a juvenile, showing that what is happening is good for coming generations.

May it be so.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Painting Pomo Dancers & the Speaking Land

The Pomo Project began with a Pomo dancer's response to my art work. Most traditional Pomo culture available to experience today, at least as a non-Pomo person, inhabits the beautiful dancers, dance songs, & regalia.

So naturally I'm painting dancers.

Armando Williams saw something in my work that he trusted. He has a beautiful way of holding confidence in me & the other artists. He helps us learn Pomo medicine, then believes that what we bring create comes from spirit.

I both love this approach & tremble within it. How can what I do be right? Ah. Relaxing into the mystery & trusting. Oooh. Hard work, & joyous.

This 18 x 24" acrylic painting, Dancer & Swallows, is actually painted over an older work. In the flush of a relationship that later fell apart, I painted my dear one & me sitting romantically among the wonderful skimming violet-green swallows of the Laguna de Santa Rosa. After things ended badly, I gessoed out the figures, leaving the swallows ready for some better purpose.

The twist that Armando's faith allows to emerge in my paintings is something I see in the Pomo dancers' ceremony, feel in their rhythms: that dancing keeps life healthy, heals the earth, invigorates our sacred relationship to other life.

This dancer's movement & prayer helps the swallows be abundant. Their abundance helps her dance.

This isn't something any Pomo person told me. It's something the land speaks. I'm attracted to Pomo & other native people because I hear the language of the land in their seeing & doing. Like everyone, I've starved to hear the fact of conscious land spoken aloud.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Essie Parrish watercolor study

Preparing to paint for the Pomo Project involves a lot of research. Some of the most fascinating aspects of Pomo history & culture involve healers or dreamers of the Maru tradition.

Essie Parrish was a Maru dreamer of the Kashaya people up on the coast. Our library system has old VHS videos of her dancing & leading her people in dance. The costumes & flags come from her dreams.

I was very moved by stories of her evolution as a healer & the power of the dancers she dreamed.

This is a watercolor study, 10 x 8", showing her moving in time. Often my process of painting is like dreaming while awake. The 4 stars came like that, honoring her powerful gifts to her people.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Thunder Woman & the Pomo Boy

One of the challenges of working on the Pomo Project is to integrate what I learn about Pomo culture with the inner process of mystery that drives my painting.

Watching traditional Pomo dancers, I'm amazed at the beauty & depth of ancient spirituality. Sometimes it's the little kids that really get me. One small boy just blew me away. Of course, I imagined Thunder Woman dancing right along with him. Thunder Woman is the spirit of Native uprising who's been showing up in my work over many months.

This charcoal drawing, 15 x 11", is a study for a larger painting.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Native Youth Dance Group

One of the joys of being part of the Pomo Project is attending events with dance performances. Joe Salinas' Native Youth Dance Group practices every week at the Sonoma County Indian Health Project in Santa Rosa. When I attend their practices, I'm inspired by the dedication of adults who come week after week to sing for them as they learn the age old dances of their people.

When I attend celebrations where they & sometimes other dance groups from farther away give their talents to the people & to the earth--I'm just blown away.

Ancient healing light shines from their faces, ancient healing sounds radiate from their feet & the voices & clapper sticks of the singers. I believe the earth is renewed--I know I am.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Even before I met Armando Williams, I was becoming friends with a pepperwood tree on a nearby bike path. I felt the tree extending care & protection.

When I learned that pepperwood is the principle medicine of the Pomo, I focused more attention on that tree and other pepperwood trees as I met them.

Now a sense of pepperwood spirit infuses all my work on the project, as well as all my prayers for myself & my family. Of course they're showing up in my paintings.

A while back I heard my friends David Barnett & Jim Wilson playing recorder music by John Cage. This left me with an irresistible urge to paint rust/green lines on raw canvas strips. I gave in, adding pepperwood leaves I'd painted & cut from fine polyester & heavy paper. I made 2 of these strips, 45 x 6" & 43 x 6".

Next came a patchwork of canvas, plus one patch of screen & one of wool batting, stitched together with embroidery thread. Since the pepperwoods were in bloom, these painted & cut leaves include flowers. Medicine, 28 1/2 x 25".

The other two images here are simple watercolors, each 9 1/2 x 7". Bohem Trunks was painted in a dense thicket of pepperwood at the Kule Loklo village at Point Reyes, my fingers numb with damp cold. New Growth was painted on the bike path just a few days ago, when I was appreciating how the flowers come first, then weeks later the new leaves.

As time passes I love these pepperwood trees more & more. I hope these paintings nourish their spirit as they continue to nourish ours.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Kule Loklo

Yesterday Sterling Hoffmann & I went to Point Reyes to paint the roundhouse there. While Kule Koklo is a Miwok village, its reconstruction & use has included Pomo volunteers & dancers. Armando had suggested it as a good place to start. Currently it's taken care of by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria. This rancheria is both Coast Miwok & Southern Pomo, as was Lanny Pinola, the wonderful storyteller who helped recreate Kule Loklo.
It was wonderful to be there. The beautiful structures belong with the trees, racing clouds, undulating land. We felt deepened & renewed.
Here's my watercolor sketch of the roundhouse & a photo of Sterling painting.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Talking Indian

A wonderful resource is Hinth'el Gaahnula (Talking Indian): a narrative history of Lake County Pomo through 1900. This dvd was produced by Round Valley Rancheria in 2006, & runs 72 minutes. Written & narrated by James BlueWolf, it begins with a view of the rich & peaceful life of the Pomo before contact with Europeans, then moves into the atrocities that followed. BlueWolf brilliantly crafts still photography, paintings by Grace Hudson, voice-overs of family memories, & perfectly chosen music.

Toward the end BlueWolf notes that some people think there's no reason to remember this stuff--let it be in the past. Unfortunately, he urges, the attitudes that led to these things still exist.

It happened here. If we live here, it's our history & we need to know it. I'd like this video to be required viewing for anyone staying in California longer than 2 weeks. It's certainly a good prelude to thinking about a reconciliation ceremony.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Pomo Project

The Pomo Project started when Armando Williams, Pomo dancer and healer, stopped by Sebastopol Gallery while I was featured artist last fall. Moved by the Native content in the images, he asked to collaborate on a project to honor Pomo culture in a series of paintings. Other Sebastopol Gallery artists were excited to join in. Our members voted to set aside our October 2010 rotation to show the work that emerges as Armando shares Pomo culture & medicine tradition.

The gallery members involved in the project include ceramicists Chris Boyd & Connie Robeson, & painters Sterling Hoffmann, Bert Kaplan, Susan Saint Thomas, Teri Sloat, & me. Sculptor Rebecca Love, photographers Christine Cobaugh & Laura Shafer, playwright Janey Hirsh, & activists Jeffrey Edelheit & Magick have joined us as well.

We're collaborating with the Sebastopol City Council & the Chamber of Commerce to make October the annual Pomo Honoring Month, with a variety of events & festivities. Here are a few:

Pomo artist Johnny Clay will be showing his portraits at Slice of Life. Sprint Copy Center will be hosting art by Pomo youth. Two original Edward Curtis photographs of Pomo women on the Russian River will be on display at the gallery, thanks to a generous loan by John Omaha & his son-in-law.

We see this as an exciting return of Pomo understanding to our shared community life. This ancient ecological wisdom will help us respond to the challenges of sustainability. Plus, it's just plain right, & long overdue.

The painting at the top is Thunder Woman & the Crescent Moon. Often appearing in the Blue Coyote series, Thunder Woman is a force for the re-emergence of Native paradigms. Here she stands among the tules--used by the Pomo for clothing, shelter, & boats. She shows us the worth of this new project in an overall return to indigenous ways of life.