Monday, June 2, 2014

Native American fantasy

This is one of the very few illustrative paintings I've ever done with a Native American theme. I know next to nothing about Indians and doing justice to an authentic story would involve much more research than I could handle. However, if someone commissioned me, I would attempt to rise to the occasion and at least turn out something decent to look at.

This piece, "The Raising of Skhau," was a commission. In 1985 I attended "Fantasy Worlds West," a fantasy convention in Oakland, California under the auspices of Marion Zimmer ("Darkover") Bradley and her extended family. While there I made the acquaintance of one of their writer friends named Terry Tafoya. Tafoya, an American Indian of Warm Springs Apache/Taos Pueblo heritage (or so he claimed), was a fantasy writer who had written a science fantasy story based on the Apache and Navaho myths of Changing Woman. He commissioned a scene from his story, where Changing Woman resurrects her brother briefly from bones in his grave. 

I did as much research as time allowed but I ended up making many major cultural mistakes in the final painting, which any Indian or Indian expert would fault me for. For instance, the staff with the feathers held in the woman's hand should not have the feathers only on the top, but tied on intervals along the staff. And she is not wearing aboriginal garb, but 20th century pseudo-Navajo attire. 

Nevertheless, I finished the picture, delivered it, and was paid, and Terry Tafoya disappeared from my world. Many years later his claims to Native heritage as well as his academic credentials were challenged, but that is none of my business, I'm only an illustrator. I like the rainbow border, which had something to do with the story, which I have almost completely forgotten. Now I stay away from any image or theme from Native American Indian cultures, lest I grab material I have no right to use.

"The Raising of Skhau" is acrylic on illustration board, 11" x 14", March 1986. Click for larger view. Restored in Photoshop.

1 comment:

Tristan Alexander said...

Interesting, very strong graphics and effective at telling a story.