For years I would always dream of my father as a giant Bear. By giant, I mean exactly that, huge, elephantine, like a wall of fur. Sometimes the Bear would have my father's face, sometimes just his eyes. The Bear was always a threat, lurking on the outskirts of my view amongst the trees, forever circling me in my house, the circles growing smaller. But I never allowed the Bear to come close. I would always barely escape behind my walls, slamming the door shut, cutting out reality and all the light outside; yet knew he was just outside, waiting. The last night I dreamt about the Bear, however, I didn't run. I approached him, warily, and came close...but not too close. The Bear looked tired, and confused, waving its massive head backwards and forwards. I wanted to touch its fur, which was falling out, but instinctively felt this would still not be safe. Next thing I knew there were other people surrounding us. They were coming after the Bear, claiming he had caused damage to their homes and families, that he had to die. I couldn't allow this and tried to convince them he was just old, he didn't know what he was doing. Then the Bear began to eat them. I watched in horror, then sadness, realizing he couldn't be stopped, he didn't know how, he was what he was. And I had to let him be, couldn't change him.
The next morning I found out that my father had passed away in the night. He left me all his possessions- which is quite the thing since he was a major hoarder, and will keep us busy for awhile- but nothing to say to me. All he said was “I have no regrets”. I have not dreamt of the Bear since.
Shortly after his death, I discovered the Iroquois legend of Katshituashku, the man-eating, stick-legged bear. Since most symbology surrounding bears is typically positive, finding a story about such a horrific creature was odd. This then led me to the legend of the Hunters and the Great Bear, and some of the elements of this myth seemed oddly familiar.
This piece is a prayer for my Dad- that he has lived his life, well or not, finished being chased ceaselessly by his demons, relinquished his hold on earthly possessions, and found some peace in his happy hunting grounds.
Katshituashku - Dad
*Currently available at Radius Gallery
Earth teach me quiet ~ as the grasses are still with new light.
Earth teach me suffering ~ as old stones suffer with memory.
Earth teach me humility ~ as blossoms are humble with beginning.
Earth teach me caring ~ as mothers nurture their young.
Earth teach me courage ~ as the tree that stands alone.
Earth teach me limitation ~ as the ant that crawls on the ground.
Earth teach me freedom ~ as the eagle that soars in the sky.
Earth teach me acceptance ~ as the leaves that die each fall.
Earth teach me renewal ~ as the seed that rises in the spring.
Earth teach me to forget myself ~ as melted snow forgets its life.
Earth teach me to remember kindness ~ as dry fields weep with rain.
- A Ute Prayer
From Legends of the Iroquois by Tehanetorens (Ray Fadden)
This is a story that old Iroquois told to their children during the winter moons :
Many winters in the past, there was a Mohawk village of bark houses along the Oswego River. One day Mohawk hunters discovered the tracks of a giant bear. After that they saw the tracks many times. Sometimes the tracks would circle the Indian village. The game began to disappear from the forests, and the Mohawks knew that the giant bear was killing and carrying off all of the game.
Because of scarcity of game, famine came to the Mohawks. The meat racks were empty. The people were hungry. Starvation faced them. The head chief said, “We must kill this giant bear who is causing all of our trouble.”
At once a party of warriors set out in search of the bear. They soon came upon his tracks in the snow. They followed the bear tracks for many days .
They finally came upon the huge beast.
At once the air was filled with the arrows of the warriors. To the surprise and dismay of the Mohawks, the arrows failed to pierce the thick hide of the bear. Many broken arrows fell from his tough skin. At last the angry bear turned and charged the hunters, who fled but were soon overtaken. Most of them were killed. Only two hunters escaped, and they returned to the village to tell the sad tale.
The two hunters told the council of the Great Bear. They told what had happened to the war-party. Party after party of warriors set out to destroy the Great Bear, but always they failed. There were many battles fought between the bear and the warriors. Many warriors were slain.
As time went on, more and more deer vanished from the forest. The smoking racks were empty. The people became very thin because of the lack of food. Starvation caused many to become sick. The people were filled with fear, and their hungry bodies crept close to the fire at night. They feared the Great Bear, whose giant tracks circled their town each night. They feared to leave their village because they could hear, coming from the darkness of the forest, the loud cough of the Great Bear.
One night three brothers each had a strange dream. On three successive nights they had the same vision. They dreamed that they had tracked and killed the Great Bear. They said, ‘’The dream must be true.” So getting their weapons and a scanty supply of food, they set out after the bear. In a little while they came upon the tracks of the great beast. Quickly they followed the trail, their arrows ready.
For many moons they followed the tracks of the bear across the earth. The tracks led them to the end of the world. Looking ahead, they saw the giant beast leap from the earth into the heavens. The three hunters soon came to the jumping-off place. Without hesitation the three of them followed the bear into the sky. There in the heavens you can see them chasing the bear during the long winter nights.
In the fall of the year when the bear gets ready to sleep for the winter, the three hunters get near enough to shoot their arrows into his body. His dripping blood, caused by the wounds from the arrows, turn the autumn leaves red and yellow. But he always manages to escape from the hunters. For a time, after being wounded, he is invisible. Afterwards he reappears.
When the Iroquois see the Big Dipper in the sky, they say, “See, the three hunters are still chasing the Great Bear.”
Be Still and Wait
Acrylic ink on wood assemblage
“When you are in doubt, be still, and wait;
when doubt no longer exists for you, then go forward with courage.
So long as mists envelop you, be still;
be still until the sunlight pours through and dispels the mists
-- as it surely will.
Then act with courage.”
-Ponca Chief White Eagle (1800's to 1914)
This piece was originally designed to coincide with a fellow artist’s work, Katrina Ruhmland. It was built to illustrate a personal moment from her life, and path-altering epiphany. She created a series of six beautifully beadworked elk-leg bones, which were displayed under my painting.
Laws of the Spirit
Acrylic ink/pen/charcoal on wood assemblage
"Man's law changes with his understanding of man. Only the laws of the spirit remain always the same." - Crow proverb
Oh, My Love What a Mirror Image We Are
Acrylic ink/pen/woodburn on wood assemblage
Oh my love, what a mirror image We are,
dipped down, waxing, waning.
Like the moon in its pearl shell
You hang between these layers
We call reality and figment,
hovering, floating, falling,
You are a white specter,
an innocent, contained in raw form
from Your first day.
Beware the figment, the underworld,
for there They hunt,
not like in reality where They only can crave
and long, and satiate
only on Our fear.
Below They hunger and waitfor a tender morsel to drop,like snowflakes on a child's tongue,where You shall melt just as rapidlyand completely.Reality is real, and new, and clean;but figment is more, and ancient,and eternal,guarded by its keepers,the gate remains open, just a crack.
Enough to allow a stray drop,
an unsuspected soul,
to slip by
But where shall It land?
So It Goes
Acrylic ink/pen on wood assemblage kinetic sculpture
"And so it goes..."
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five
Acrylic on wood assemblage
Where the Wildflowers Grow
Acrylic ink/pen on wood assemblage
I Am in Them, and That is Eternity
Acrylic ink/pen on wood
"From My Rotting Body, Flowers Shall Grow, and I Am in Them, and That Is Eternity"
Acrylic ink/pen on wood assemblage
Acrylic ink/pen on wood
Acrylic on wood assemblage