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“My ancestry and the history of colonization in North America,
place me as a witness to the untold stories of this continent.
I can either take up that role of witness or ignore it.
I choose to witness . . . . “

The first room that people enter when they come to my Open Studio is filled with my artwork inspired by the Muscogee (Creek), the tribe that I belong to.  The work honours my people, our traditions and tells many stories.  Most of the work is done by hand.

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I begin with the first piece I made “Winter Trees Wept” which is about The Removal in the 1830’s of the Muscogee and four other tribes, the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee and Seminole from the Southeastern United States to Indian Territory, 1500 miles to the West.  This was the most difficult piece for me as it contains the unbearable grief suffered by my people and by the land.

Winter Trees Wept

Winter Trees Wept

“‘Winter Trees Wept’ was the knife-edge that opened up the way into the richness of my Muscogee heritage.  I began drawing in October 2012 and real and imagined worlds have been flooding onto blank paper; marks made and stories told in charcoal, mushroom compost, paint and pastels.

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I have been taking up wire, clay, wool, twigs, bark,  fabric, bird wings and claws and shaping some of the inhabitants of the Muscogee world.

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Chufi (trickster rabbit), poyvfekcv fuswv (spirit bird), perro (boat), hvcce (river), enliketv poyvfekcv (soul shelter) and Birdman, a supernatural deity who resided in the Upperworld with the spirits of the Sun, Moon and Stars.

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Birdman – twigs, thread, blackbird wings, tail & claws. 50 x 19 cm

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Everywhere, there are maps.  I have printed off a map showing the location of the five tribes and the Removal routes to the West.  This helps me to explain so much.

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 This map shows the Upper Creek Nation with our villages and towns along the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers.

Muscogee Red Stick

ecatecvlke enfvyvtetv pome enliketv, red stick leads us home – twig, oil pastel, watercolour pencil, acrylic paint 30 x 30 cm

This work feels so important and deeply healing to me and my ancestors.  It continues to be a privilege to share it with visitors to my studio and to my blog.

The quote which begins this post was recycled from this interview of Cree/Metis poet Marilyn Dumont

 

 

Last night I dreamed this image.  When I got up, I did a quick sketch in charcoal.

hokkolen tafv, two feathers

hokkolen tafv, two feathers

I’m beginning to learn Muscogee, the language of my ancestors, by translating the titles of my artwork.  I am getting the the point where I can pronounce the written words correctly on sight.  ‘V’ is pronounced /uh/.  ‘Tafv (feather) is /tá-fa/.  Hokkolen (two) is /hokkôl-in/.

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The most recent Journeying workshop I went to focused on the Summer Solstice – solar energy and the masculine principle that rules over the earth in mid-Summer, the time of the longest days and the shortest nights.  The workshops include shamanic journeying and are based in the Celtic tradition.  At the Summer Solstice, a battle takes place between the Holly King and the Oak King.  The Oak King is slain, giving way to the Holly King who will rule the year and seasons until the Winter Solstice.  In the Muscogee tradition, we have an important ceremonial game called afvcketv, or stickball.  On my journey I met two warriors engaged in battle.

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In the Journeying workshops, I always meet my Muscogee ancestors and I travel with my Muscogee animal guides, usually fuswv (bird) and locv (turtle).   We end the day with an artmaking session.  I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired and went out into the churchyard of the Quaker Meeting House where we were based for the day.  I found myself wandering amongst gravestones and thought about the burial places of people’s ancestors.  I recently traced my ancestral line back to theplacecalled Alabama, where my Upper Creek Muscogee ancestors come from.

I found a pile of branches and twigs and chose one shaped like a figure and like a river with tributaries.  I attached an ‘arm’ wrapping it with red thread and strengthened it with glue.  I found two little figures and placed them in his hands.  My Great Great Grandfather, Tecumseh Philips was born in 1836, during the final year of the removal when my ancestors walked to theplacecalled Oklahoma.  He carried our bloodline forward from his parents Pahos and Wiccie Philips; through his daughter, my Great Grandmother Melindy; her daughter and my father’s mother, my Grandmother  Mattie; his Great Grandson, my father Frank and his Great Granddaughter, me.  He brought us all forward through such a time of unimaginable loss.

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vculvke tate, ancestor. 49 cm.

 

I recently discovered an online petition created by elementary school kids in Massachusetts to have Andrew Jackson removed from the $20 bill.  This is something that I’ve been saying would be a very good idea, ever since I learned about the instrumental part the 7th US president played in the Removal of the Five Civilized Tribes from our ancestral homelands in what is now the Southeastern part of the United States.

On May 28, 1830, the Indian Removal Act was signed into law by President Andrew Jackson. One of the Holocaust Butterflies I made in 2013 is of printed excerpts from Jackson’s 2nd Annual Message to Congress, December 6, 1830 in which he outlines the Indian Removal Act, and images from the £20 bill.

Andrew Jackson butterfly 8" x 10" , printed on lokta paper.

Andrew Jackson butterfly
8″ x 10″ , printed on lokta paper.

And is it supposed that the wandering savage has a stronger attachment to his home than the settled, civilized Christian? Is it more afflicting to him to leave the graves of his fathers than it is to our brothers and children? Rightly considered, the policy of the General Government toward the red man is not only liberal, but generous. He is unwilling to submit to the laws of the States and mingle with their population. To save him from this alternative, or perhaps utter annihilation, the General Government kindly offers him a new home, and proposes to pay the whole expense of his removal and settlement.
– Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson butterfly - detail

Andrew Jackson butterfly – detail

 

I’ve heard this idea  expressed many times in First Nations social media, but this is the first time from a more mainstream source.  I love the spirit and conviction of these young people.   Maybe what we really need is stalwart voices saying, ‘This is wrong and this is what to do about it!’

Sign the petition here

I belong to the Muscogee (Creek).  Our name for ourselves is Mvskoke.  The European settlers called us Creeks, because of our proximity to water.   We originally lived along the waterways in what are now the northern parts of Georgia and Alabama, before The Removals in the 1830’s.   My people lived beside water because water is the First Medicine.

I have a river-drifted stick with a very powerful presence.   I drilled a hole through it so that I can wear it around my neck.  This totem symbolises my connection to the Mvskoke and to the spirit of the river.

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It reminds me that I belong to the Muscogee and of the river of blood which flows through my veins.  My ancestors walked the Trail of Tears;  we lost our homeland and many of us lost our language and the Knowing of our traditional ways,  but the river of blood still flows through our veins.  A hidden river that carries our grief and our memories, our hopes and our dreams.  The river has carried me to where I am.  I carry our story into the world, through my words and my art work.  I have been learning about my ancestors, our history and contemporary life in the 21st century, as well as the Muscogee language.  Hvcce poyvfekcv means ‘river spirit/soul/ghost’ , pronounced /hácci poyafíkca/.

Today I set my easel up and got out my (mostly grey) chalk pastels to draw my river totem.

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It was so fascinating to really look at it and follow the shapes and patterns with my eyes and to try to capture their fluency on paper.

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A magnifying glass helped . . .

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It looks a bit like a person, or an animal.  Perhaps it has something of the shape-shifter and Trickster Rabbit, Chufi.

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Hvcce poyvfekcv – river spirit, 38 x 69cm

The word totem comes from the Ojibway word dodaem and means “brother/sister kin”. It is the archetypal symbol, animal or plant of hereditary clan affiliations. People from the same clan have the same clan totem and are considered immediate family.  The Ojibway scholar Basil H. Johnston defines dodaem, or totem, as “that from which I draw my purpose, meaning, and being,”

Source :: wikipedia

Our local acting troupe, the  Moretonhampstead Variety Group, are presenting ‘Alice‘ this week, based on the well known tale by Lewis Carroll.  Their production will incorporate the Moorland Museum of Improbable Objects.  Opened in 1892 by Sir William Frederick Danvers Smith, later Lord Hambleden, the Moorland Museum of Improbable Objects was considered an essential stopping-off point on any visit to the moor and played host to many of the most famous names in Victorian society.

Shaken by an undisclosed scandal in 1898, the museum closes under mysterious circumstances and Sir William Frederick Danvers Smith was never seen again. All that remained was a note, left on the door to the sealed doors to the museum, read by all but understood by nobody.

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Rediscovered by the town’s historical society, the doors to the museum will unsealed for ONE WEEK ONLY in February 2014, giving modern visitors a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tour its fantastical exhibits exactly as Lord Hambleden left them, a great artistic venture featuring artists from all corners of Moretonhampstead.

Naturally, I was honoured with an invitation to make a few items for the museum and have a great deal of fun letting my imagination run amok within the confines of the Victorian era to produce a few improbable objects for the exhibition.

One of these is a Bread and Butterfly, presented in a bell jar.

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“Its wings are thin slices of bread-and-butter,
with a crust as its body and a lump of sugar as its head”

Lepidoptera panis butyrum

Lepidoptera panis butyrum

Eadweard James Muybridge ( 1830 –  1904) was an English photographer known for his pioneering work on animal locomotion in 1877 and 1878, which used multiple cameras to capture motion in stop-motion photographs.

This electro-photographic investigation shows a series of consecutive images of a baboon running.

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Animal locomotion: Eadweard Muybridge.
Philadelphia : Photogravure Company of New York, 1887

I made two shadowboxes which can be lit from behind.  First, I lined up the images to correspond with the ‘windows’

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Then, I trialled the type of paper to print the images onto.

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Movement of the Unicorn, Eadweard Muybridge,
Animal Locomotion, Vol XIII, Unusual Animals, 1882

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Disappearance and Reappearance of the Cheshire Cat, Eadweard Muybridge,
Animal Locomotion, Vol XIII, Unusual Animals, 1882

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Disappearance and Reappearance of the Cheshire Cat – detail

We delivered these and two other pieces (which shall be divulged at a later date) to the Museum yesterday.

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If you are not fortunate enough to have procured tickets to see the performance of ‘Alice’ and tour the Museum of Improbable Objects, you can still check out some of the exhibits therein on the ‘Exhibits’ tab on the Museum’s website.

Welcome to my world. Please note that all art, photography, and text are protected by copyright law. If you would like to use or publish any of my words or images, I would appreciate it if you ask my permission and give me credit. Thank you.

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