Vanguard

Earlier this year I completed Road to Oklahoma, which I have been working on for about four years.  It has evolved as I have learned about and got in touch with my Muscogee ancestry and heritage.

I entered it in the 48th  Annual Trail of Tears At Show in Talequah, Oklahoma.  The Trail of Tears Art Show began in 1972 with the intent to create a venue where diverse art forms can be used to exhibit American Indian heritage.  TOTAS s the longest-running American Indian art show in Oklahoma.  I first heard about this show in 2016 and it was my dream to have a piece of artwork juried in to it.  I’ve shown and sold my work in the UK, but I feel that when Native people view my work, that it is ‘gotten’ at the deep level that it is made from.

Road to Oklahoma – Artist’s Statement
A road is just a road until you travel upon it. Then it becomes part of you. This road began with the Missisipian peoples, ancestors of my tribe, the Muscogee (Creek). Some of their motifs are part of this piece. Later, the Mvskoke were forced from their river towns – represented here by beads – along the Trail of Tears to Indian Territory, later Oklahoma. For my dad, the road promised escape from the traumas of the past to a new life. But, however far he travelled, the trauma travelled with him. Further down the road, he passed it on to me.

Road to Oklahoma,   34 x 11″

At the bottom of the piece, I added a bundle of red sticks to honor my Upper Creek ancestors  and my dad, Frank Charles Schwakhofer who was born in a time and place where he could not be Mvskoke.

I also made and added the Mississippian Hand, originally made from mica, from Angelina fibres.  My ancestors believed that our newly dead gathered in a hand shaped constellation of stars, prior to joining our ancestors on the Milky Way.

I am very, very proud that Road to Oklahoma won two prizes in this year’s Trail of Tears Art Show.  First place in it’s category and I won an Emerging Artist Award.  🙂

Next year is 2020, the centenary year of my dad’s birth.  I have been longing to go to Oklahoma for several years, to put my feet on the ground where my dad and ancestors lived and to re-connect with my people, the Muscogee (Creek).  I have had six pieces of artwork in Oklahoma over the past year.  I feel that these are emissaries and paving the way for me.  I spoke at a conference in Norwich this summer and met a few Southeastern Native artists, including two Muscogee (Creeks).   It feels great to be connected to some people in advance of my journey there.  I will be going Home.

Tear

This morning, before my drawing class, Andrea rang me and asked if I could bring in a poem for her to read during our warm-up exercise.  I’ve very recently discovered Linda Hogan, a Chickasaw poet & writer.  I actually have about eight of her books due at any minute in the post.  But not today.  I did a quick Google search for ‘Linda Hogan poems’.  The first one I came to, I downloaded, printed off and took to my drawing class.

tear in fabric

Tear

It was the time before
I was born.
I was thin.
I was hungry.
I was only a restlessness
inside a woman’s body.

Above us, lightning split open the sky.
Below us, wagon wheels cut land in two.
Around us were the soldiers,
young and afraid,
who did not trust us
with scissors or knives
but with needles.

Tear dresses they were called
because settler cotton was torn
in straight lines
like the roads we had to follow
to Oklahoma.

But when the cloth was torn,
it was like tears,
impossible to hold back,
and so they were called
by this other name,
for our weeping.

I remember the women.
Tonight they walk
out from the shadows
with black dogs,
children, the dark heavy horses,
and worn-out men.

They walk inside me.
This blood
is a map of the road between us.
I am why they survived.
The world behind them did not close.
The world before them is still open.
All around me are my ancestors,
my unborn children.
I am the tear between them
and both sides live.

–  Linda Hogan (Chickasaw)

Image ::  Still from a video tutorial: Tearing cloth in 3ds max 2011 (no audio)

Belonging

I have Muscogee ancestry on my Dad’s side. He grew up in poverty in Muscogee, Oklahoma in the 1920’s and 30’s, feeling very ashamed and marginalized, called a ‘half-breed’ by the white kids and the other Indian kids. He inherited and passed on to our family the violence and rage and addiction that had been passed to him through the generations. I grew up knowing that I am part Indian, but feeling shame-filled and secretive about it. My Dad never learned our language or any of our traditional ways.

When I got into my 20’s, I read everything I could find on the European Holocaust. There simply wasn’t anything being written about the Native American Holocaust and the genocide inflicted on the indigenous people in America. I later started learning about Historical Trauma and Unresolved Grief in Native American communities. I identified the source of my family’s dysfunctional inheritance and did a lot of work acknowledging the damage and healing the scars.

I’ve made some important pieces of artwork to mark this journey and in the past couple of years, when I’ve shared them with people and told them about my family history, they would say how lucky I am to have that background. At first I thought they were crazy, because there was so much pain and grief, so many generations of unfulfilled lives in response to our history. I’ve also been learning a lot about the Muscogee. About our pre-Contact (1492) life and traditions, the Indian Removal Act, Trail of Tears and Relocation to Oklahoma, where my Dad grew up. I’ve come to understand my Dad and feel compassion for him. I’m certainly the first person in my family line who has faced and felt this stuff. It has felt like a huge burden at times and has lain heavy on my heart.

Last night, I spent a couple of hours going through the Muscogee (Creek) census from 1832 town by town. My GGG Grandfather, Pahos (Pow Hose or Par Hose) Harjo Philips came from one of several Upper Creek towns in what is now known as central Alabama. That’s Red Stick country. The Red Stick Muscogee were the ones who supported traditional Muscogee leadership and culture, including the preservation of communal land for cultivation and hunting and opposed assimilation to the United States culture. They went to war in 1813 with the Lower Creek Muscogee (who were allied with the white Americans), influenced by the Shawnee leader Tecumseh, who had begun a pan-Indian movement to throw the Americans out of Native American territories. We lost, but we went down fighting.

In a radical act, my GG Grandfather (B. 1826) was named Tecumseh Philips after the great leader. By 1836, the last of the Muscogee were ‘removed’ to Indian Territory, 1500 miles to the West. I am named after Tecumseh’s daughter, Malindy Philips, who is my great grandmother.

When I found last night, that I am descended from the ones who fought back, I felt like an eagle was flying in my heart, like the sun was beaming from my soul, like the sacred hoop had been mended. I felt whole again and I felt the strength of my people. I feel proud to belong to the Muscogee.

Brian Larney_Red Stick

Red Sticks by Brian Larney

Artwork by Brian Larney

Grandmother’s House

I am so grateful for my current ‘topside’ world of intimacy with my beloved, Home, satisfactory work, some sound real-time friends, all of which are all so nurturing and healing to my Soul. Because I am in this place, I am able to go consciously into the dark places which need my attention and care and the light of my awareness. To witness that which I would rather not look at, if I’m honest. It’s hard work and I sometimes wonder, ‘Why do I do it?’ while knowing that I couldn’t possibly make the choice not to.

I feel close to my ancestors at this thin time of the year, especially the Muscogee. Drawing on their tremendous strength and also feeling the incredible weight of our history. Too much for any of them to deal with, so it has been passed down to me. It’s heavy, a huge burden, but one that I gratefully receive. Just as I gratefully receive the life they have passed to me. I said ‘No thank you’ to the legacy of domestic violence, sexual abuse, substance abuse, mental health issues which was passed to me. I don’t know why I have this consciousness and drive towards wholeness and health, but am grateful for that as well.

I had a very heavy art-making session today. I started making ‘My Grandmother’s House’ which is part of my mixed-media re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood. My tale is ‘Little Red Stick’ about a Muscogee girl who belongs to the Wolf Clan and it is set during the Removals & Trail of Tears in the 1830’s.

grandmother's house11

My Grandmother’s House, mixed media, work in progress.

There’s a lot in this about my personal coming of age story, my family of origin history and my Tribal history. It’s deep healing work for myself and for my ancestors and feels like a lot to carry sometimes.

grandmother's 3

In the studio

I’m also simultaneously making an accordion book which tells the tale of Little Red Stick’s journey through the woods to her grandmother’s house.

grandmother's 1

Little Red Stick, accordion book, paper, paint & pencil, work in progress.

I got to the part where she comes to the house, so I had to make it so I can find out what happens next.

grandmother's 2

The journey continues . . . . . . . . .. .

We haven’t disappeared

Winter Trees Wept, silk, cotton and paper, hand quilted, feathers and beads, 2010.

Winter Trees Wept – Second Telling,  ink and paint on fabric with haiku, 2007

Second telling (beneath) and the final piece (above).

The Artist between two doorways, two worlds.

Remembering the forgotten people

Samhain. All Hallows Eve.  Hallowe’en.  All Soul’s Day.  At this time, both the Christian and the Celtic traditions honour the importance of our ancestors and recognize that this is a thin time when their Presence is especially near.

For the past few years in my artwork, I have been on the riverjourney.  This is a journey that traces the story of my Muscogee (Creek) ancestors.  Never a linear journey, but one that meanders back and forth;  sometimes quickly rushing, sometimes slowing to a trickle, freezing solid, damming up at times, but always in motion.   A journey with deep roots in the past that continues to branch into the future.

Belonging

Removal

Trail of Tears

Wanderground/Exile

The Call to Home

The Gift of the Skull

Coming Home

 

At certain times in my life, when I’ve come through a hard time, I’ve thanked my Muscogee ancestors.  The ones who survived the Removal from their ancestral lands and the long walk along the Trail of Tears to make their life in a place not of their choosing.  That wiry toughness and sheer stubborness has served and continues to serve me well at times.

This year, I honour my lost and forgotten ancestors.  The ones who disappeared from the family tree.  The ones who just didn’t make the journey.  The ones who got lost in a maze of substance abuse, destructive behaviour and violence towards Self and others.  If forgotten, or even worse, ignored and written out of the family tree, these lost souls can continue to wreak havoc in the lives and relationships of their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.  I honour the ones from the dark side of my family tree and in doing so, hope to give them some shelter and to mend some of the broken places and disconnection within myself.

the forgotten ones