List of Panels:
(individual panel pages coming soon)
- panel 1 nature
- panel 2 resourcefulness
- panel 3 bounty
- panel 4 community
- panel 5 majesty
panel 1 nature
The first scene depicts the natural world that existed here for millennia before humans arrived in North America. It is an autumn landscape painted in gold tones that transition smoothly from the colors of the building.
The valley oak is a star species in this panel. There is also a magic evergreen forest, below which a pair of wolves are running and playing. I also painted a tule elk and a herd of black-tailed deer. The bull elk has his tongue out, something males do during mating season, as they approach females with head held high, neck extended so she can properly appreciate his antlers. The deer – two males, a doe, and a yearling – are at a watering stream.
Now complete, the new part of the panel contains a mother and baby black bear, a mother mountain lion with two kittens, two more wolves close up with their faces as expressive as those of people. Smaller native animals in the foreground engage the viewer, especially kids standing at that level: a gray squirrel with a nut and acorns nearby, a watchful brush rabbit, a flicker, bees living in a dead tree branch, and the endangered native Lange’s metalmark butterfly that feeds on the naked buckwheat flowers in the lower left. At the lower right is red twig dogwood, leafless in autumn.
Our hemisphere was a rich and diverse environment for millennia, only inhabited by humans late in the game.* This panel shows that abundance of native flora and fauna.
*Humans crossed the Bering Strait into North America probably about 15,000 years ago. By contrast, humans evolved in Africa by 200,000 years ago and began moving into Asia and Europe by about 60,000 years ago.
In the next twenty-five panels, the stars of the region’s story are its people, on the beautiful stage of nature.
panel 2 resourcefulness
This story of millennia continues across the next four panels depicting the indigenous tribes and the life they led in their “deep or southern valley,” giving us the word Yokaya, and the contemporary name Ukiah. Native people flourished here for more than 10,000 years, developing a sustainable and efficient lifestyle.
Indigenous people were hunter/gatherers. But they also used sophisticated land management techniques to support the game animals and edible plants they favored. Foremost among these was controlled burning, which prevented dense woodland from developing and gave rise to a more open environment with fresh plant growth that was nutritious food for deer, elk and other herbivores. When Europeans arrived on the shores of California, they were amazed at the sheer abundance of game.
California’s Mediterranean climate precluded growing crops traditional among other native populations, namely corn and potatoes. At the same time, coastal California’s natural abundance and the techniques gradually developed by native people allowed for some of the highest population densities in North America. Here in the oak woodland, acorns were plentiful. Yuki, Pomo and other related tribes harvested and processed wild acorns as a staple food. Acorns were harvested in conical baskets, then dried, cracked with a mortar and pestle, ground in rock bowls, and the flour leached by pouring water through the flour in a sand basin.
The woman at the upper right is gathering seeds by beating the bushes into a large basket. At the bottom of the scene, a spawning salmon swimming up stream.
The Yuki possibly preceded the Pomo in the Russian River Valley, but over time the Pomo ranged from the north coast to Clear Lake, which appears in this and the next panel.
panel 3 bounty
Pomo women foraged for seeds, berries, edible greens and roots, mushrooms, and “sweet, butter, nutty flavored”* grasshoppers.
* Lassik/Wailaki woman, Lucy Young
Pomo men were hunters and fishermen (of salmon, perch, trout…) One man is seen in a canoe made from tule rushes (painted from a photo by Edward Curtis, 1924). The body of water in this panel represents Clear Lake, an important location in our wider community.
The large, strong, open-weave baskets used for trawling in this manner were actually two-in-one conical baskets woven together at the rim: the smaller inner cone had its tip cut away so fish would swim in and through the little hole, then be trapped in the larger (connected) basket.
Pomo women gathered sedges and willows for basket weaving as well as clothing manufacture. Native culture did not suffer western shame over nudity and the temperate climate gave rise to minimal clothing in the summer. I wondered how this would be received by a modern audience, but everyone I asked said “Be true to the traditions of the people!” Hence, she is topless.
The seasonal abundance of inland Mendocino County was balanced by the wealth of our coastal environment, prolific salmon runs and the ability to preserve foods from both. The Native inhabitants of our area were expert consumers of all of this bounty, and so another salmon appears!
A young woman gathers “Oregon grape” at the upper right of the foreground, and blue elderberry appears near the young boy with his bow and obsidion-tipped arrow from volcanic Clear Lake . A woman is sorting buckeye nuts, which appear behind her, as well as pine cones and a bowl of pine nuts. Below her and to the right: thimble berries, the white winter berries of red twig dogwood, medicinal yarrow, and mushrooms including chanterelles.
panel 4 community
The Pomo and other native tribes lived sustainably and largely peaceably in small bands for thousands of years.
In fact, what we know as California was a vast land whose natural bounty lent itself to the management techniques of its human inhabitants, giving rise to a large Native population of about 300,000. California was possibly the most densely populated region north of Mexico in the years before Columbus arrived in the Western Hemisphere.
Before European contact, California was a treasure chest of languages, one of the most linguistically diverse places on earth. Native people between the Arctic and Rio Grande spoke 300 different languages classified into 50 language families. By contrast, Europe’s languages are classified into three major families. California natives spoke some 100 different languages, classified into 5 language families. There were 60 major tribes in California and the Pomo are themselves divided into seven subgroups, each comprised of many bands, politically and economically autonomous communities but united by trade, marriage, and culture. The language diversity speaks of cultural depth, of people separated by geography and staying in their homeland for hundreds and hundreds of years. (As opposed to the shifting, merging populations of Europe.)
These tribes and bands were not without conflict, but warfare was not dominant in their lives. Later Europeans called them “peaceable and unaggressive.” I would posit that in lands of such abundance they had better things to do than fight. Ethnographic texts describe the Pomo as sedentary and affluent. In other words, so rich in resources that they didn’t need to migrate with herds.
Life centered on the community. The word is meaningful to all of us, through all periods, but I thought it was exemplified by the Native band, living and working together, delighting in their children, teaching them in all activities, honoring the wisdom and experience of elders, valuing generosity and the care of future generations.
Basket weaving was an important skill. Foods were gathered, stored, and served in different baskets. Fish were caught, acorns gathered, soup was boiled in special baskets. The large basket above may have been made for acorn mush at a large gathering. Exquisite baskets decorated with hummingbird feathers were beautiful gifts for important occasions.
Below the female dancers you now see a spiritual roundhouse with sacred smoke pouring from the roof, curling around the male dancers with flicker feather masks and turkey feather ritual aprons.
In the foreground I depict elders, parents and children, foods, dwellings and people having fun together.
Below the dancers a woman sits in a house made of rushes with her hand on an abalone shell. Another woman in her finest garments offers food, a young mother carries her baby in a traditional cradle, and a man stands with his atlatl, an extremely functional tool for projecting darts and spears with more force than a bow. This scene of community has 20 people in it!
Below, the figures include: an elder whose profession is money-making – he creates the small white clamshell beads that were Pomo currency – seen here with his tools; a young woman (from a photo of Frances Jack when she was 16) wearings strings of the beads; an elder woman starting a coil basket, over whose shoulder a boy looks on affectionately; and two children – a young girl and her toddler brother, who have stick dice and acorn tops near them. These were provided by my friend and advisor White Wolf James, who also modeled for the elder man’s face! At the bottom of the panel you see black and white acorn bread in a basket.
panel 5 majesty
Ancient Redwoods blanketed our coastal region and extended inland, fed by ocean fog. Redwoods can live 1,200 to 1,800 Years! They are among the oldest living things on the planet.
The tallest tree on earth is a redwood (380 ft.). Trunk diameter can measure 30 ft. This is how the panel started.
There is no better word than “majesty” to represent these forests, which define our region, both by their immensity and later, by their depletion, which would build San Francisco and feed the lumber boom that swelled the population of Ukiah in the 1900s.
I chose to paint these kingly trees up close, the way we experience them, as massive trunks whose tips we can’t even see.
The spotted owl was a species crucial to saving what remnant of old growth forest we still have. It’s true of the whole mural, but this panel is hard to photograph and is more massive and inspiring in person. Come visit!
Up Next… SECTION TWO