Published on 2 November 2023 at 17:13

Medium: Watercolor in paper

Date: 2023


Childhood Imagination and the Allure of the Shaman

As a kid walking up and down in the cornfield, I used my imagination to amuse myself. Yes, I had no cellphone back then in the 1940s. We did not have a radio in the house either. Our mom was very interested in the lore of the indigenous Sioux and Dakota nations, which had ruled our lands.

One of these ideas was the intensely dramatic vision to me of the idea of a shaman, someone who could make contact with other worlds. I knew that indigenous people who had walked this earth beneath my feet had shamans who had done rituals to attune their senses to other worlds beneath their feet or high in the sky.

This seemed like an ideal way of life for me when I would be older. "Are you going to be a doctor, a fireman, or a minister?" adults would ask. My confident response was, "I am going to be a shaman!"

The foundation of this fascination came from my mother. Mom had started us not only with Indian lore but with beautiful scrapbooks. When we were age six, we were allowed to paste in our own selected pictures. My first was a shaman. Yes, it is on my bulletin board now in New York. By now, I have made a number of my own shaman pictures.


Artistic Evolution: The Shaman's Journey

My showcase blog for this week is aptly titled " Shaman". It was drawn about 4 years ago and underwent an interesting transformation. For some unrecalled reason, two years later, I enlarged it onto a canvas, but in the enlarging process (see the pencil grid on the picture), the final image shifted from my original vision. I did not feel strongly that I could proceed with the changes, and it sits still, waiting after the past two years. As I look at this smaller image now, I somehow see the large unfinished image as much stronger. Especially this smaller one has a short headdress, while the large picture has a number of straight lines going up from the head and off the picture plane. In the big picture, the shore is bigger with black sand, and the flipper sandal is going off the picture into the water, too.

Emotions and experiences change us, and over the past four years, I've felt that shift within myself. Analyzing my art, I ponder if this emotional transformation is positive.


Decoding the Shaman Image

This face is a mask. The eyes focus in different directions. The lips are large and bright ruby red. Across the forehead is a white ribbon holding a group of triangles of varying colors. These colors match the rainbow which crosses the top of the picture and down the sides, holding the whole image together. The skin of the mask face is ocher yellow; I think of yellow as a spiritual color. On either side of the headdress are deep black wiggly lines like spirits coming out of the head. Down each side are a series of faces such as the shaman might have contacted. The shaman is walking by a shore with one foot bare and the other in a short flipper. The shaman's clothing is an animal skin tunic in red and over the lower abdomen a skull in white. These two colors seem spiritual to me, or is this a memory of our high school colors, cardinal red and white? At the end of the ocher-colored sleeves emerge birds. Birds represent flights to other spiritual corners possible for the shaman.


Childhood Memories and Lessons

As a child, I liked talking to these imaginary creatures during the hours in the fields. Once when I was age 9, Mom said, "I see you always telling yourself stories. Tell me a story. I will type it as you tell it." Thus encouraged, I told the first sentence. She looked up from the typewriter with big eyes and in a shocked tone exclaimed, "That could never happen!" I turned away, happy staying in my "never happen" world and leaving her to her world.

The image of the shaman tells a story too. What is this shaman saying?  He has one foot in water, a symbol of the unconscious, and has a flipper slipper, so he is beginning to have a feel of going deeper into "never happen". His red lips may be full of storytelling. The mouths of the other faces are also open to speaking. His clothing of an animal face and a skull is fearsome. His hat indicates some magic. In the advanced later picture, his hat is full of lines going straight up. He is going deeper to find more spirit—to experience more magic.

Still, I find myself immersed in the "never happen" myths from my fields inspired by the indigenous people who were there before me.

In fourth grade, a conversation with a teacher left an indelible mark on me. I asked the teacher, "Didn't we just steal the land from the Indians?" She said, "Well, we can use it better. We are Christians." This has stuck in my mind all these years. She had never walked the earth in my field.


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