October 8, 2021
As we celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day on October 11, I am inspired by the connection that lives between Native American art and culture, and the parallels drawn for me between how art shaped my earliest years and continues to influence my heart today.
Native American art embodies societal values and customs with connections to religious ideology and heritage honoring family and ancestry. And in this time of prioritized visibility, I am drawn to the works and words of Native American rights fighter and author John Trudell (Santee Dakota-American), who once said, “When one lives in a society where people can no longer rely on the institutions to tell them the truth, the truth must come from culture and art.”
Turning to creativity is instinctive for me. It lives in my cooking, writing, handmade gifts, and in how I engage the eager minds of young children in my life. I know they may be too young to fathom how central creativity is to their early skills development of critical thinking, math, and language. But I celebrate those early education byproducts and all I learn through my role at First 5 LA as first steps to instilling an appreciation for how we convey histories and heritage that unite families, communities and people.
Her art lives in me
My Mom signs her art, Carol Maria. She’s self-taught, which most find hard to believe. But I have lived in the space of her learning and experimentation where easels, brushes, paints and a host of canvas, wood and textured surfaces competed for general living square footage. She accepts it as a gift given for her to share with others. And we, my sisters, brother and loved ones who have expanded our family over the years, have been enriched by her interpretations and expressions of the world in which we live.
Throughout her life she has exhibited in museums, sold to admirers, and given her works as gifts from the heart. Those of particular meaning – and of particular affinity to each of her four children – hang coast to coast in safe keeping in our homes. My own special piece is hung in my Los Angeles home.
Of the hundreds I have seen, applauded and dare I say critiqued, the piece that has touched me more deeply than any is titled, “Native American Woman ©.” It hangs on a wall in my remote-world makeshift office and grounds me in my sense of family, confirming the distance from my native New York City is just geography. Her art’s presence is like the air and music I remember of home.
“Native American Woman ©” is part of a large format oil on wood series of peaceful portraits portraying diversity and culture. A reminder of her lessons that before I am anything else I am a good human being.
I look forward to passing along to my descendants the feelings and values I carry along from my family and broadening their appreciation of other cultures toward their own journeys to becoming good human beings, as well.
Palette of culture
From a long-ago visit, I recall the controversial and study-worthy portraits housed at the Smithsonian by Native American artist Elbridge Ayer Burbank, who famously painted Chief Geronimo and more than 1,200 likenesses of native peoples, representing more than one hundred tribes. And I celebrate how the argument posed in the conversation-stoking L.A. Times article, “How Native Americans in the arts are preserving tradition in a changing world,” concluded that whether Native American art is authentic in its own rights or a source for education, the artists themselves are important ambassadors of culture – of the past and the present.
I’m looking forward to this year’s art exhibits celebrating the political and cultural richness of Native American art at The Autry Museum and the Bowers Museum. As well as spending time with my own little ones to busy our hands in creating art that is beautiful and will nourish their minds with history and appreciation as my Mom did for me.
Art is a legacy – spanning generations. And though the youngsters who keep me young are not quite Smithsonian ready, it won’t be too long from now. I trust the additional knowledge I am gleaning from First 5 LA to ground and expand their desire to learn and create in their early years will not only influence their minds, but their hearts as well.