On a hot day on the Colorado Plateau in early June Chicago based writer + street artist “Looks_1” (Ruben Aguirre) met with Twyla Hunt to paint her food truck. Ruben, Twyla’s mom, Mary + Twyla discussed what he might paint while Twyla’s son swam in the sprinkler…
florence with her portrait of she + gloria
hosteen buck navajo with his portrait
portraits of florence + bahe ketchum
Washington, DC based artist, community organizer + activist Kate Deciccio recently completed a 2 week project with the Navajo Mountain Chapter House. Here’s what she said about her experience…
I arrived to Navajo Mountain, Naatsis’aan and met with Lorena Atene, Community Services Coordinator & Hank Stevens, Chapter President to talk about their vision for the project. “What is the purpose of the art? What stories are we trying to tell through this project?” I asked. Lorena & Hank shared several main objectives.
We want to engage our youth in something creative where they explore the mythology of the mountain & also have a chance to be expressive.
We want to honor the importance of the struggle to protect Bear Ears Monument for its significance as a place where healers collect medicine, hold ceremonies & hunt.
We want art for the Stronger & Healthier Navajo Nation & Eehaniih Celebrations in July & August. Specifically Eehaniih honors the people who were able to avoid internment by hiding in the canyons behind the mountain, our veterans, our elders & people who have left & returned to our community.
The next morning Lorena & I were off make house visits to elders who she & Hank felt embodied the spirit of Eehaniih. We knocked on Grandpa Buck Navajo’s hogan & he & his daughter invited us in for a visit filled with stories about his 84 years of healing. Grandpa Buck is animated but his speech is quiet & I don’t know Navajo. Thankfully his daughter Lena & Lorena were there to translate.
“I began studying ceremonies when I was 10. I’m 94 now, the oldest medicine man here, and when I was 18, people from this community began going to fight WWII,” Buck shared. He went on to talk about all that he’s seen and the responsibility of the medicine man to care for the community during, WWII, the Korean War, land partition, livestock reduction, the Vietnam War, Desert Storm & today. He was light & warm & pointed to boxes of fresh Navajo tea and the tobacco he was chopping on the floor. While talking about ceremonies that took him years to learn, the use of singing & baskets, he also made jokes & shared the Spanish words he learned from his Mexican co-workers when he worked on the railroad, “Nada Mamacita!”
I would have been happy staying all day listening to Grandpa’s Buck’s stories but I took his photograph and Lorena & I headed to meet Gloria & Florence. Gloria grew up in Navajo Mountain and left with her husband to live in Chicago for 44 years. She lives down the hill from Florence who has spent her entire life caring for herds of sheep and goats who graze in the giant open pastures between their houses tucked behind the mountain. Gloria was eager to sit down, drink pink lemonade & reminisce about her days riding horses & how she met her husband. I was curious to learn more about the corner of her living room dedicated to Elvis but she wanted to share about how her son married an Indian girl who she loves but that she always tell him, “You married the wrong kind of indian.”
Meanwhile Florence kept peeking her head out the door, looking up the hill, noting that it was hot & that the sheep & goats were in the coral. Despite that Florence who have been just fine avoiding photos all together, I followed Gloria’s lead & photographed them together both inside & in front of the hogan.
Lastly we reached out to the family of Bahe Ketchum, one of the Navajo Code Talkers who was from Navajo Mountain & died just a few years ago. His son Arthur shared photos and new articles about his dad’s experience in WWII.
For the next few days I split my time between rendering the portraits to make stencils of the elders & painting a mural in the meeting house that features the native plants used most often in Navajo plant medicine.Thanks to Nizhóní, I had great help and input making it possible to finish the wall in just 4 days.
The following week I met the 7 student workers assigned to the art project. Lorena was like, “If you can please paint, 8 palettes for the park, 6 picnic tables that match, 2 5×12′ canvases & if you finish…. I have a list of other spots where we’d love art.” No big deal.
The youth were like, “We’re not sure what to expect but if we can spray paint, we’re on board!”
We looked at some Navajo textiles & pottery designs, talked about pattern structures & symmetry & began painting. By the end of day 1, the kids had painted all 8 palettes with beautiful layered patterns and were each beginning to experiment with fading and color transitions. As the week unfolded, we researched the connections between the land features & Navajo deities. The students talked to their parents & grandparents about the stories they had learned about the land and we quickly realized that depending on each clan, the significance of each place really varied. Some people thought Rainbow Bridge was very sacred, other people said, “That place doesn’t mean much to us, I’ve walked under there.” Some people believed the Twins, the children of the Sun resided in the mountain, other people believed they lived in a mountain near Window Rock. Here I was attempting to support the kids to discover “The Story,” but we learned together that actually there were many stories & a diversity of connection & offense to each perspective. The students collectively agreed that to them, being from Navajo Mountain means feeling deeply connected to the beauty and vastness of the land. They shared about how grateful they feel for living in a place where there is very little commercial development & we made big lists of all of the animals & plants that to them capture the essence of their community. Together we worked out a mural composition integrating patterns from rugs, petroglyphs, animals, & text about how the land makes the kids feel.
Each day we talked about the strengths and struggles of Navajo Mountain to support youth. The kids agreed that small town drama and feelings of boredom & isolation drive alcoholism & depression for many people in the community, that lack of access to healthy food and opportunity has big implications on people’s ability to believe they can do what they want with their lives. They helped cut out the large stencils of Grandpa Buck, Gloria, Florence & Bahe and we talked about what they hope to accomplish in the community as they become leaders.
By the end of the week I found myself inventing small jobs so they could work independently and experiment developing their individual styles. They paint the chapter’s backhoe, cold planer, electric meters, a bunch of picnic tables, and definitely a few things without permission.
Spending 12 days painting at the Navajo Mountain chapter house was an opportunity to be with people and attempt to create art that reflects back all that the community shared with me about who they are and how they see themselves. Wrapping up last night, we agreed that in our time together, we were exceptionally productive but that also projects like this unveil how much more could be possible….. What could happen if we committed to using art to explore community stories all year long? How could we support the students to learn the skills to resist depression and alcoholism by engaging in art? I feel good about leaving this project with new questions and inspiration. Huge thanks to The Painted Desert Project for getting the art & dialogue started.
Thank you Kate for your passion, dedication + amazing work!
The Dinè nation is rich with oil, natural gas, coal, uranium + water in aquifers. Yet, as a result of decades of being treated as a colonized nation approximately 25% of the 180,000 people living on the rez don’t have running water (or electricity though more people are getting solar systems).
This new 2 color, 16″ x 25″ hand pulled screen print, edition of 100 will be used to raise money for Dig Deep, a private California based company bringing water (+ solar energy) to the rez through the Navajo Water Project. The prints go for $70 including shipping with 100% of funds going to the Navajo Water Project. If interested, email me at email@example.com.
Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina is one of the country’s oldest and most respected schools of craft. Opened in 1929 by Lucy Morgan who focused her initial instruction on weaving in order to help local women build cottage industries to help support their families. As noted on Wikipedia “…The school now offers Spring, Summer, and Fall workshops in craft disciplines, including weaving and dyeing, bead work, glassblowing, pottery, paper making, metalworking, and woodworking. It also offers fine arts subjects, such as printmaking, painting, and photography. Workshops are taught by visiting American and international artists and professors.”
Having known of Penland since 1970 when I first visited while attending a nearby alternative, Quaker school (the Arthur Morgan School), we went there twice during my middle school years for folk and contra dancing. It was at Penland that I learned to clog in 1971 so I was honored and thrilled when I was asked to return this spring for a 1 and a half week long residency.
My time at Penland was like an episode of Project Runway in that I had 9 days to arrive, acquaint myself with the community, photograph something or someone that represented the gestalt of the educational center, get this work printed, prepped and pasted. It didn’t help that my first 3 days there coincided with a stomach flu presenting as explosive diarrhea, fatigue and fever. I soldiered on. Arriving late Sunday night I spent the first day on the down low meeting students and staff in various studios. I started photographing on Tuesday knowing that in order to get the work printed, prepped and pasted I’d have to get the files to a printer by the following day. After deciding upon an image to paste, I drove to a printer and hour away in Asheville. Despite having been assured by the printing company that they could complete the job by Friday I was told when I arrived that the job required too much of their black ink and they wouldn’t be able to do it.
Hearing the voice of Project Runway mentor and spirit guide Tim Gunn I had to figure out a way to make it work. I called the printing company in Tucson, AZ I’ve been using for the past 2 years and told them my situation. I was assured that if I could upload the files to them by noon their time Wednesday (the day I was calling them), they’d be able to get them back to me by Friday. I sat the office of the print company in Asheville that bailed on the job to use their wifi and uploaded the files to Reproductions, Inc. (Let me take a moment to give this company a shout out. They’re a small, non-corporate, employee-owned print shop with personable service who charge me 12 cents per square foot for large format, black and white, toner based prints as compared to 80 cents per square foot at companies like FedEx Office. I love them.)
I informed the program director of my situation. Unbeknownst to me she called Reproductions, Inc and asked them to express ship the order such that I’d receive it the following day (which i did. I point this out only to express the irony that FedEx was able to get this order across country in a day when I’ve often ordered shipments from Reproductions, Inc the next day only to have it arrive 2 days later and I’m in the same state.) Regardless, I got the work and the count down was on. Because my glue doesn’t dry properly below 50 degrees and it snowed the day I placed the order, I waited until Sunday to begin pasting knowing full well I had to represent since I was in my home state.
The site I selected for the installation was a 1950s era, cottage with asbestos shingles used to store gardening equipment. It’s called Green Acres. And why did I chose Green Acres? Because Green Acres is the place to be. Farm living is the life for me. That, and it has great visibility. The images chosen was clay pieces waiting to be fired over 8 days in a wood kiln. Thus, the title for the installation is “Clay Pieces Pretending to be Contestants on The Apprentice (i.e., pots waiting to be fired.)”
Textiles student + hardcore, ready to go the distance assistant, Krysten Watson (You rule.)
Adam + Onay adding stoking the kiln to fire the pieces pretending to be contestants on “The Apprentice.”
Much love to the good people at Penland. Thanks for the opportunity and the experience. I hope we get to do it again.
Brooklyn Street Art coverage: http://www.brooklynstreetart.com/theblog/2017/04/17/chip-thomas-wraps-a-house-with-pots-in-penland-north-carolina/
I was invited to participate in the 2017 Joshua Treenial. The theme this year was event horizon. I ventured to Joshua Tree in January to find a potential location for an installation and to obtain source photos.
Thanks to local resident and artist Diane Best I was able to find an abandoned house on the property of Blake Simpson. Per Blake the house hadn’t been occupied for 10 years or more. Upon completion of the installation Blake was moved to use the space for community art happenings. My artist statement describes my thinking about this project.
In general relativity theory, an event horizon is a boundary in space-time beyond which events cannot affect an outside observer. In layman’s terms, it is defined as “the point of no return, the point at which gravitational pull becomes so great as to make escape impossible, even for light.”
My piece, “Inside out” focuses on an environmental point of no return. Environmental scientists identify 350 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere as being the point of no return. As stated on the website of the environmental organization 350.org:
“…Since the beginning of human civilization, our atmosphere contained about 275 ppm of carbon dioxide. That is the planet “on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted.” Beginning in the 18th century, humans began to burn coal, gas, and oil to produce energy and goods. The amount of carbon in the atmosphere began to rise, at first slowly and now more quickly. Many of the activities we do every day like turning the lights on, cooking food, or heating our homes rely on energy sources that emit carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases. We’re taking millions of years worth of carbon, once stored beneath the earth as fossil fuels, and releasing it into the atmosphere.
Right now we’re at over 400 ppm, and we’re adding 2 ppm of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year. Unless we are able to rapidly turn that around and return to below 350 ppm this century, we risk triggering tipping points and irreversible impacts that could send climate change spinning truly beyond our control.”
Wildlife biologists predict that at the current rate of temperature rise, 1/3 of all animal species are at risk of extinction by 2050 unless CO2 emissions are reduced by 30%. For this reason, stark imagery from the Salton Sea was used to dramatize the urgency with which we need to act to limit CO2 emissions and subsequent temperature and ocean level increases.
“It would take about 30 feet of sea level rise to connect the Salton Sink to the ocean and permanently fill it again. Realistically, climatologists expect at most 2 meters (about 6.5 feet) of sea level rise by 2100. Without significant reductions to our carbon emissions and/or physical intervention to block sea level rise, the Salton Sink (as well as all of the area reaching from Imperial Valley to the Sea of Cortez) will eventually be permanently under water. (https://saltonseasense.com/2016/01/14/the-other-changing-sea-level/#more-1166)”
Our pattern of carbon based energy exploitation and consumption has turned our planet upside down and inside out. The Hopi have a word for this called “koyaanisqatsi” which means crazy life or life out of balance.
The time to act is now.
Images by Diane Best are below:
Images by Gabrielle Houeix are below:
My artist statement was included in the structure with the hopes of raising awareness and prompting people to action.
Video of the dancing joshua tree: https://vimeo.com/212393820
I’ve known Rose and Paul Hurley for the 30 years I’ve worked at Inscription House. It’s been a joy to watch them age gracefully.
collaboration with nick mann for peoples climate movement
So here we are on the cusp of a new year. It’s 2017’s turn to bring forth a new beginning, an opportunity for a re-do or maybe a resetting of our imaginations. I want to give thanks for the beauty around me and to people like Cori Bearshield + her family and to the Hurleys who share moments of beauty from their lives with me. Thank you for the goodness.
Tahnee on hoverboard while Tehya gets her moccasins tied.
Cori adjusting Tahnee’s sash belt.
The Hurleys with + without their great grandson, Batman.
Let’s do this 2017! Happy New Year!