Spring Cleaning via Etsy!

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In an attempt to: A) clean up my studio space; B) get my artwork out of storage and into good homes; C) make new art; and D) earn some extra money; I spent much of today listing artwork on my Etsy site. I’ve sold some work on Etsy in the past, but nothing beyond small drawings. Who knows if my larger work will find the right audience there, but I’m hopeful that I can sell enough to at least cover tuition for the PNCA Crow’s Shadow Printmaking Retreat coming up in April (about $500 plus travel expenses). I haven’t attended the last two years and I’m craving a printmaking fix! Especially at my favorite locale for making prints…

I listed a collection of items at 40-60% off my usual retail prices and will keep this up through May 12th. After that, prices will go back up and I will start looking more actively for a venue other than Etsy to retail them at my regular rates, although I’ll probably keep the Etsy site going too. (I’ve got a decent number of prints stockpiled from 2010 and 2011.) I don’t want to pursue anything more serious while I’m currently selling off older work at a discount, but I’ve thought about reaching out to a couple of Seattle galleries that specialize in Native art for the past few years and never done anything about it. Why? Too timid, too nervous, too many assumptions that they would say, “no.”

Well no longer. Now. Is. The. Time. And if they say, “no,” I will just keep looking for the right place, the right partnership. What good is it to keep making my artwork if I only sell it here and there, just half-heartedly making efforts without really pushing myself? I know what it is worth, I’ve had people pay what it is worth, so it isn’t like I need more validation. I just need to put myself and my work out there! So Phase One of My Plan To Sell More Art is now in progress. Here’s hoping it goes well and I can soon move to Phase Two.

Indian or Indian? West Elm’s Dragonfly Dhurrie…

MIAC Dragonfly Dhurrie Image

 

No, I didn’t make the rug shown in the picture above. I ran across it on sale at West Elm’s website and (of course) was drawn to the geometric patterns so similar to the traditional Karuk/Indigenous designs that inspire much of my own artwork. I wasn’t surprised to learn that this piece was made in collaboration with the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture (MIAC). An early 20th century textile in their collection provided inspiration and became the “MIAC Dragonfly Wool Dhurrie” which is available in a variety of sizes and is currently marked down as a final sale item. There was something about the description that really jumped out at me when I read it. I’ve posted a screenshot below, can you find it?

MIAC Dragonfly Dhurrie

 

What seemed so amusing was that it is inspired by the works of one group of (mis-named) Indians and handwoven by another group of (actual) Indians in India. There’s a lot going on in this dynamic. I’m not sure that I even want to write much about it beyond that I noticed it, and found it amusing/disturbing. In our contemporary society, a large retailer is trying to be socially responsible and ends up collaborating with a museum dedicated to the work of a group of indigenous peoples within their own country; but the actual manufacturing of these new items they are creating goes to the people in another country, on another continent, for whom the first group was mistakenly named after centuries ago when European explorers “discovered” the Americas. Yikes.

In any case, I do love the rug and like seeing that someone partnered with MIAC to develop a line of products. They also appear to be making an effort to work with socially responsible manufacturers and I commend them for this. Two groups of peoples with the same name but that are so rarely actually involved in anything together. And for all I know, there were very few American Indians involved with this project. Perhaps just curators at MIAC?

 

An Intuitive Art Experience

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The last few days I’ve been reading a book called House of Shattering Light: Life as an American Indian Mystic by Joseph Rael. It has been a really great read and I’ve enjoyed Rael’s perspectives on Native spirituality. He is both Pueblo and Ute and grew up learning about both cultures at different times. What I appreciate is his positive stance and belief that Native knowledge should be used to improve the lives of people globally, not just held for a select few. He also really disagrees with form for form’s sake and values intuitive ways of accomplishing tasks. I still have another chapter or two left to finish and then I had also picked up another of his books called Being and Vibration that I’m looking forward to reading.

Given my recent (potentially supernatural) experience with a psychic medium, along with other past experiences when I’ve felt guided by intuition or other forces, I had another interesting happening this week. Nothing overt, and nothing that I would say is definitive proof of anything, but it felt personally significant to me. It does feel connected to my reading this book in some small way. I’ll relate it here since it does involve art.

A close family member who lives in eastern Washington was diagnosed with cancer not too long ago. I had visited her a couple of weeks ago and was planning on another trip this week to offer some support to her and the other household members. Daily life obligations always manage to get in the way, so with a car appointment and my work schedule and everything else, I had considered postponing making the trip this week since I would be there for less than 24 hours and it is about a three hour drive each way. I was on the verge of not going, almost up to the last day, but felt that it was still important for me to go for some reason. And so I got up on Tuesday, packed a few things, and went to get my car serviced before heading over the mountains.

It took longer than I had expected for my car, but eventually I was on the road. I decided that I really needed to stop on the way at a nature trail where I had scattered my mother’s ashes some years ago. I like to visit there occasionally, but haven’t been in a year or two. On my last visit over the mountains, I had wanted to stop but didn’t have the time or else I would have been late for pesky obligations like work. This time, I knew it would make me later to arrive than I had intended, but that I had to make the time.

One thing to note was that I had been reading Rael’s book while my car was being serviced. And right as my car was done, I got a text message out of the blue from someone I had met in California earlier this year who I hadn’t heard from in a couple of months. In terms of timing, it was both random and meaningful. He’s someone who is just so full of kindness and light. There isn’t another way I can think of to describe him. So it was nice to hear from him and when I finally stopped at the nature trail we exchanged well-wishes via text.

And then I went walking on the nature trail, which loops around through old-growth forest near the summit of Snoqualmie Pass. I had brought Robohontas with me on this trip and something made me grab her from the car before I set out, which was good because there were a lot of great photo opportunities for the blog. There were probably about ten other cars parked there, but I didn’t see another person until I returned to my car when I was leaving. They must have been out on longer hikes on the other trail. I got to the place which was somewhere near where I had left my mother’s ashes. I had placed them behind a large tree somewhere near the trail, but no longer remember exactly which tree it was. The same thing happened the last time I was there, I kept coming up to a tree and would think to myself, “Oh, it was this one!” But then a little ways later there would be another tree that looked familiar, and I suddenly wouldn’t be sure of myself. In the end, I have a vague idea which tree it was, but I also know that it doesn’t really matter. She is both there and not there.

It was a wonderful walk in any case, and I got a lot of great Robohontas photos. There was a squirrel who was eating pine nuts on a branch high above that chattered at me for a while before scampering up the trunk even farther. I saw a lot of small birds flitting about and heard their calls. Several times I observed tiny green worms hanging from invisible threads on the path. They would squirm and twirl and dance in the air like tiny trapeze artists. I tried to photograph them with my phone, but they were too tiny and kept swinging too much for the camera to capture them. I gave up and just enjoyed watching these little aerialists.

After the “higher” part of the trail when it looped back and I knew I was returning to my car, I came to a spot with an empty tree trunk. This was a stump where a tree must have been cut down many years before, and the insides of the tree had rotted out so that a ring of wood and bark the height of the stump was all that was left. It was like a tiny primeval cathedral. There were some pieces of a rotting cedar log that I had been compelled to pocket near the beginning of the trail, and a rock I had found not too far away that I was carrying. It seemed like the right place to leave them, so I arranged them in a pattern inside the stump with pieces of wood pointing in four opposite directions. There wasn’t a lot of foliage in this place, the ground mostly was covered with a carpet of evergreen needles and I saw a large and heavy pinecone unlike any I’ve seen before that must have fallen nearby. I also noticed a plant growing on and near this stump and realized it had four leaves that also pointed in opposite directions, like the pieces of wood I had placed.

There was a picture of some sort bouncing around in my head up to this point, the idea that I needed to draw something as a token to help with my family member’s healing. All I had was the idea of a geometric border, but couldn’t see what the middle should be exactly. When I saw that plant, I knew that it was the thing to draw. I snapped a picture to remember it and headed back to my car, and over the mountains, into the drier hills and valleys  of eastern Washington.

She was surprised and pleased by my arrival and I visited with her and the other family members there. I hadn’t brought any art supplies with me, so I had figured that I might make my drawing when I came back home and bring it with me on my next visit. At a certain point, everyone left to either rest or do things they already had planned and I had a couple of hours to myself. I picked up the book and was reading it again for a while, maybe an hour when I suddenly realized that I was wasting an opportunity to take action. I put the book down, drove to a nearby craft store and bought a small art set that had color pencils, a sharpener, and a pad of paper housed in a carrying case. I also found a small wood tabletop frame that would hold that size of paper. I went back to their house and as soon as I came in, people were back and I was caught up in my visit again. A little while later, I had an opportunity and went out to the dining table to draw.

I knew I needed to start with a row of triangles at the bottom of the page, so I did that. Then I drew the leaves of the plant and started filling in color from there. I don’t really draw realistic images any longer, so I wasn’t sure how this would turn out. But it didn’t feel like my usual “official” artwork, it felt more ceremonial, so I didn’t think that mattered. It was really a very simple drawing and some of the people came and sat at the table and we visited while I worked. They wanted to take a drive that night to some property nearby that another family member had recently purchased. I wasn’t quite done with my drawing, there was more color and shading that needed to happen although it would probably have been good enough. We left for the drive under the bright full moon and then I ran another errand with someone after we were finished so it was fairly late when I finally was ready to finish the piece. I knew I needed to get up early and drive home to go to work, but I also knew that I needed to finish the drawing. So I did. The adjustments were subtle, and the paper tore a little when I was blending the colors, but it was important. I put it in the frame, took a picture to document it (see above) along with the book that was on my mind and then went to get at least a partial night’s sleep on the couch.

When I woke up, I set the drawing on a shelf next to her desk in the office where it would face her when she worked. I don’t know what effect it will have, if any. It wasn’t a matter of making it look perfect or of using archival materials. I just know that I needed to make it and leave it there. Maybe it was some universal force giving me instructions. Maybe it will help her heal. Or maybe it was just for me. Maybe it is some psychological manifestation brought on by fear of losing someone else I love. Whatever the reason, it was something I had to do. And so I did it, willingly.

“Every meal has become a mystery of source, location, and transportation.”

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This past Friday, Robohontas ended up as number 15 on a list of “15 Twitter Accounts Every Native Should Follow” through Indian Country Today Media Network (image above is from the online article). I assume she caught someone’s eye since I’ve been posting much more regularly again for the last month or so. Their take on her was pretty amusing–“File Under: WTF?”–and it is good to see that I am not the only one who doesn’t entirely understand who she is or who she wants to be. It also led to a sudden influx of new “likes” on her Facebook page and new followers on Twitter, which was quite a shock to me as the growth so far has been steady but more snail-like.

More followers means increased scrutinization of what I post on her social forums. One such person on Facebook commented about an article I shared regarding the trademarking of the “Idle No More” name. I suppose the quote I pulled out from the article wasn’t the mildest, but I didn’t use it specifically to promote the article as truth. And the commenter accused me of “stirring the pot,” which I suppose I may have inadvertently done. They provided links to more accurate information, which I dutifully re-posted, and whatever conflict was there ebbed away. Strange that the threat of online conflict produced such a response in me. Am I that ensconced in a contemporary ivory tower? Quite possibly.

Another follower on Twitter posted today: ““Didn’t make Indian country today’s list of natives to follow on twitter cuz I have no drop of white blood in me” hahaha Dopest line today!” Once I saw that, I had to retweet it. In part because I have many drops of “white blood,” so it could easily be a shot at me. But also because it was damn funny and I immediately realized that I didn’t need to take myself and Robohontas so seriously. Or take everything so personally. The recent sudden attention is both awesome and scary. It was a jolt that forced me to acknowledge that, as Robohontas’ reach widens, the project will attract all sorts of outside comments, both positive and negative. And it also made me continue to think about that ever-present question of what/who gets to decide if something/someone is authentically Native.  (Would the Twitter comment have had more or less impact if it had referred to drops of black or asian blood? Is that even an observation that someone would make?) And in the grand scheme of things, another 60+ Facebook page likes and 200 more Twitter followers isn’t even a drop in the bucket.

Reflecting on all of this made me think back to a quote from Sherman Alexie that I believe I remember hearing him say on NPR initially, but can easily be found via an internet search: “To me, 9/11 was the end game of tribalism. That’s where tribalism leads, to people thinking my tribe has the right to kill you.” It really sums it all up for me. There is always someone who is going to be “other” from you. It could be their skin color, their culture, their politics, their personality. It happens globally between different nations. It happens nationally between different regions. It happens locally between different communities. It happens in communities between different tribal members.

Moving on. I also finished reading a book today. I specifically call this out for two reasons. First, I don’t read much anymore. This is a  confession from someone who grew up with his nose in a book. I still love books, I buy them, but I don’t read constantly. Or, I should say that the constant reading I do is now online, so I was proud to have picked up an actual physical book I bought this year, and read the whole thing. Sad, I know. It wasn’t even a long novel.

But the second reason for saying this is that it was such an interesting read. Shrouds of White Earth by Gerald Vizenor. It is about an Anishinaabe artist named Dogroy and rambles all about in first-person. It is fairly recent, published in 2010. One of the frequent settings and places mentioned in the book is  the Band Box Diner, located in Minneapolis. It was strange because I am so used to reading books about places that I’ve never been to, or never experienced a connection to if I did happen to have been there. But late last year I was in Minneapolis for work and my work/travel companion and I were so enamored of the place that we made sure to go back for seconds. So I leave you wish a paragraph from the book that I loved, a paragraph that speaks to a place that–somehow–may connect everything to everything else. Or then again, it might not.

Yes, indeed it is time for a late lunch, but only at the Band Box Diner. This is my turn to buy lunch. Partly cloudy, is this a good day for a ham and cheese omelet? The eggs are fresher, truly cracked and cooked here, and laid by real chickens on the run in Minnesota. That was always assumed in the past, but now the actual sources of food are significant even at the Band Box Diner. Every meal has become a mystery of source, location, and transportation. Tonight, my friend, the women of the creature arts have invited us to drinks and dinner, organic produce from local farmers, at the Gallery of Irony Dogs.

Climbing Up and Out

Failed to Honor the People It Displaced

 

I’ve been going all year so far thinking that I haven’t made any new art except for the four works I drew for the show down in California. Then, all of a sudden, I realized that I have still been intermittently working with Robohontas. So I’ve actually made a lot more art this year than I thought.

The year has been strange. It started out with such momentum and then for some reason my mental/emotional state took a turn for the worse. Nothing drastically wrong, not in a horrible state, but also constantly drained and unable to find the energy to do much beyond the regular routine of going to work. Low-grade depression? Physical health issues? Existential crisis?

Luckily, the last month or so has been getting better with a strong past couple of weeks. Paying more attention to taking care of myself physically and otherwise. Still keeping my appointment with my endocrinologist on Monday to see how my testosterone levels are doing, since that could also be a culprit. I can tell I’m in a better space too, because I have been really actively posting on my Robohontas blog and Facebook page.

One thing a couple of weeks ago was that I had a really interesting phone appointment with a psychic/medium where I may have conversed with my dead parents. Or maybe not? I’m always a little bit skeptical, but in the end, what she told me really brought me a lot of peace and into a much better emotional state. I was able to get a new perspective on things from the past that have bothered me and to take a lot of that associated hurt and anger and just let it go. I’m fine with taking the experience as something I can’t explain and going with the fact that whatever the source was (cold-reading, psychological, or spiritual), it really gave me the emotional comfort I needed to deal with some difficult issues.

Art-wise, I do have some prints down at the Washington History Museum in Tacoma as part of their annual “In the Spirit” Native art exhibition. I should really get down there to see them hanging in-person. And I was also super excited to purchase some artwork from one of my favorite artists who had a fundraising campaign on indiegogo. Not only did I get a couple of things from her current/new project, but I was especially happy to get some polaroid proofs from one of my favorite projects she has done! They should arrive via mail later this month and I can’t wait for them to show up. I’m not telling who or what it is right now, but I’ll post about it when I have them!

Hibulb Cultural Center – Is It Worth a Look?

Hibulb

 

Last week found Bryn and I up at the Tulalip Resort for my birthday. I always do enjoy a brief getaway, even moreso at Tulalip. Of all the Native-owned/operated casinos near Seattle (that I’ve been to), this is my favorite. Hibulb Cultural Center opened almost two years ago in August of 2011. The center includes a gallery with a permanent exhibition about the history of the Tulalip Tribes, a gallery with a temporary exhibition (currently about military service), a 50 acre Natural History Preserve, a Longhouse, a Research Library, and a Gift Store. I’d been wanting to go visit even before it opened since I really became interested in Native cultural programming for museums and exhibits of artifacts back in college. Somehow, it didn’t happen until last week. In retrospect, I enjoyed my visit, yet I don’t think I was missing out on much by not having seen it sooner.

The exhibits and facilities are housed in a beautiful new building. Apparently the center and preserve cost about $19 million to build. Bryn was actually also excited to visit since he keeps seeing billboards in Seattle for Hibulb. The building is lovely and the exhibits are interesting, but as a stand-alone destination, it feels like something is lacking. It is obvious that this is a great resource for the Tulalip Tribes to collect and teach about their culture. A fairly big chunk of the buildings appear to be devoted to classrooms, which I assume are frequently utilized by Tulalip and other youth programs. If you are, however, a tourist looking for a fun museum to visit, you may find your experience lacking.

The main exhibit is housed in a large gallery with lots of visually interesting and slickly-built displays. There is a lot of information and I found it to be well presented along with a nice selection of objects. There was a clear connection between the artifacts shown and the natural environment that the various tribes lived in. One observation–and it is not intended as a criticism–is that many of the objects are not as finely crafted or showy as the typical “Indian” arts that the public is used to seeing in the Pacific Northwest. Those visitors who are aware that much of the art and artifacts we see advertised locally as “Northwest Coast Native” are actually from tribes farther north in British Columbia or Alaska will not be surprised or disappointed. Any tourists drawn to make the drive from Seattle after seeing a billboard will likely have a different set of expectations.

A temporary exhibit called Warriors: We Remember is in the attached second gallery. This was a very large room with a sculptural video installation in the center and images and information on all of the walls. I liked it, and found it in line with similar displays I have seen at other tribal cultural centers that honored tribal members who have served in the U.S. military. It did make me want to know more about the warrior traditions of the various tribes prior to and during colonization by Europeans and Americans though; I felt that there wasn’t much context about where this “warrior” spirit originated from. Approached as a memorial tribute, however, the exhibit works perfectly well.

The longhouse was really nice, I loved the strong smell of cedar when you are standing inside. The contemporary electric “firepit” in the center under glass was a fun interpretation and the decorative poles flanking a large video screen were among the more compelling pieces on display in the center. Canoes of varying sizes and several cases filled with stone artifacts were out in the large airy hall connecting all of the spaces together. The gift shop didn’t have much on offer beyond the stereotypical trinkets and souvenirs. It was a Friday afternoon when we went, and we were the only two visitors for the entire time we were there.

Overall, I didn’t mind my visit since we had received free passes from the front desk upon our hotel stay at the Tulalip Resort. But with an adult admission price of $10 per person, I would probably have felt differently if we didn’t have the passes. Considering the size and scope of what is on display, I’m surprised that they are asking that much for admission. I also find it interesting that, of the tribal cultural centers/museums I have visited, it is usually fairly apparent that a lot of money has been spent in envisioning and building these places, but they also often feel like they have been plunked down without a defined sense of purpose. Again, this could appear differently depending on what activities are taking place when you visit.

In my opinion, Native museums/cultural centers often seem to embrace the Western model of a museum in which to collect, protect, and house objects, but do not always have a clear sense of who the museum is built for. Is it for tribal members? Is it for youth education, whether tribal or not? Is it for tourists? is it for the general public? I love a well-designed space as much as the next person, but I can’t help feeling like so many of the exhibits I visit, whether at tribal museums or large public institutions, end up having this strange tension between trying to teach about living cultures that have survived and changed drastically in the last few centuries and trying to entertain an ignorant dominant society with artifacts from a seemingly exotic culture. Building multi-million dollar cultural centers sounds really awesome as an accomplishment and for a press release. But what are they supposed to do?

My verdict? If you’re in the area, check it out. But if you are considering making a special trip just for Hibulb, I would recommend waiting until you can combine it with some of the other entertainment or shopping activities that are located nearby.

 

Observing One’s World from a Distance

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Yet again, it has been a while since I’ve written anything here. Not that I haven’t wanted to, or thought about it! Briefly, I’ll just say that I was dealing with (what I hope is) a mild bout of depression, which is something that pops up from time to time. I hate how it immobilizes me, both mentally and physically. It can sneak up too, as it did this time, slowly draining the color from my life until I suddenly realize that a pattern is forming.

This recent one surprised me, as my life has generally been really positive for the last few months. I know I wrote several months ago (or more?) about the sudden changes in work for my partner and I, and moving to a new apartment that had made so much of my daily life unrecognizable in such a short period of time. Perhaps it is the settling in, the wearing off of any newness, that allowed my mood to slide? More likely, it is chemical, and if the current steps I’ve taken to create a positive momentum through taking better care of my physical self don’t continue to work, I’ll be visiting my doctor. (Medication can provide a useful leg-up when necessary.) But it got me thinking about something I’ve been wanting to write about: how a change of place can offer such a drastic change of perspective.

Of course, depression can be looked at as a state of mind, and it certainly gives a different perspective. While it isn’t a place I want to be, it affects the senses and the way one looks at the outside world. But what I really have been thinking about is the clarity that can come after a trip to another place. I’ve done more traveling in the last six months than usual. There was a three week trip to Minnesota for training, a brief drive down to Arcata for an art opening, a long weekend in San Francisco/Santa Cruz with friends, a day trip to Portland to hear an author I admire, and last week I spent a couple of days with family in Yakima. Some of these were new places, some are places I have visited many times before. Each one offered a different vantage point from which to view my “regular” life back at home.

It was interesting that I returned home from each place with new energy, especially from my California visits. I was able to evaluate things in my life from outside my normal sphere of influence, able to get a big picture view of what my life looked like from afar. I think this what makes travel so useful, whether one is going ten or ten thousand miles away from home. Really, it is the same effect that a lot of companies seek when they send employees on corporate retreats to fuel new ideas from new perspectives. From my most recent visit to eastern Washington, I got to see and reconnect with family and also to really look critically at my life. Is my relationship with my partner on solid ground? Am I working towards the right goals? What kind of changes can I make to increase my personal authenticity?

Seeing where changes need to be made is one thing, taking action to change them is another. And I think that sometimes, seeing what needs to be changed can be disheartening, in that there may not be an easy or quick way to make the change. And yet… as that quote I saw written on a railing in Santa Cruz said, “The obstacle is the path.”