as i float down this Swift Stream             1994

 

    Among many of the indigenous American cultures a method of picture writing was developed to communicate both with other tribes and within the tribal group. The picture writing of the Ojibwa Midewiwin Medicine Society, recorded in a Smithsonian ethnographic survey conducted in the late 1880’s drew me into an exploration of ideas conveyed through the use of image and language, especially in the form of chant and repeated ideogram.  

    If you have ever shared a favorite book with a child, too young to read, you may have experienced moments when the child can repeat every word on a page, just by looking at the picture.  In this same way, the Ojibwa stories were linked with their images and used as a mnemonic aid. 

   The title of this series comes from one such ideogram, translated “As I Float Down This Swift Stream”.  I took it to refer to the life passage of the speaker, perhaps a context set by an elder prefacing a bit of wisdom about to be conveyed.  In my painting, a clan figure moves along the flow indicating the passage of time.

As I Float Down This Swift Stream    1994

Acrylic on unstretched, sized canvas

6’ x 9’

I am An Event    1994

Acrylic on unstretched, sized canvas

6’ x 9’

Language, Language, Language    1994

Acrylic on unstretched, sized canvas

6’ x 9’

Power, Protection, Dreams and Fears    1994

Acrylic on unstretched, sized canvas

6’ x 9’

    These works are acrylic paintings on sized, but unstretched canvas that hang from grommets.  Each triptych is approximately six feet high by nine feet wide.  Words are repeated as in a meditative chant.

In Their Hands     1994

Acrylic on unstretched, sized canvas

6’ x 9’

The word ‘Language’ is repeated until, like in a chant, the words lose their substance and blend with one another.

When asked to describe himself, Buckminster Fuller would reply “I think I am a verb”.  I supposed this to mean a person of action.  In a similar sense, as we pass through time with accomplishments large and small, we might think of ourselves as an Event, something of ongoing activity and consequence.


I believe the Midewiwin society ceremonies enabled its members to become active ‘Verbs’ and meaningful ‘Events’ for their tribe.

Stones, Shells and Tokens that represented lessons learned were exchanged from master to student in the Midewiwin ceremonies.  Hands reaching across a circle represent this exchange.  Some of the earliest known art used the image of the hand.  I can think of no more significant a statement of “I exist” than the handprint of the artist.

This suite of paintings from 1995 employ ideograms of Ojibwa picture writing to tell my own stories.

Acrylic on canvas

One character is a story teller, while the other tries to listen to the voices of the ancestors.

24” x 30”

The story told from one generation to another takes on a form reminiscent of an embryo, as a genetic tale.

30” x 24”

A character strains to hear the words of ancestors long gone.

24” x 30”

Words obscure the image of an Earthwork from California, an actual ancient artifact that was being obliterated by the tracks of off road vehicles until the state protected it with a fence, the profile of which seemed to me reminiscent of a coffin.

30” x 24”