Tuesday, October 30, 2007
[Label:] Many cultures believe that powerful, even frightening, images of angels and deities serve as protectors and guardians of holy places. On one side, there is an approaching summer thunderstorm (protection of the sacred) with the eagle, and on the other is the night sky of winter (purification).
[Media: Acrylic on canvas]
[Additional information: I painted this large painting when I was about 20 years old, while going to school at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Some spooky things had been going on in my dorm room, sounds when I was not there: a sound as of someone getting up off the bed, then footsteps to the door, and then a doorknob jiggling from inside. But all the students knew the Old North Dorm was haunted. Sounds of crying in the night, people walking in and out of walls, and lights turned on and off. So I painted this, based on the Lakota warrior "Low Dog" or "He Dog", who had fought against Custer at the Little Bighorn. I put a lot of different power symbols in the painting, both embedded and evident. And it worked. At least my room was quieted of activity. It might sound a little weird to some folks, but for us Indians and for us artists, the spiritual world is not that strange. Doubly so if you are an Indian artist!
Then my dad took "The Guardian" with him while he worked on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation and hung it on his apartment wall, which you could see from the outside street. He said sometimes he looked outside at night, and saw Cheyennes sitting in their car in the dark, looking at the painting. This painting has the definite "presence" of a guardian spirit. He is truly part of my family; "someone" lives in this painting. He will never be sold, and he lives with my mother and father now. If you click the video of me with "The Guardian" on the right side of this blog, you can hear me talk a little about it (It's from my YouTube site. If you are into spooky stuff, check out my Paranormal Montana blog.]
[Label:] Against the cold mountains stands a Genius Loci, a spirit of place. Transformation of the self is a big theme in our self-centered society. But what about transformation of society, and even of the land itself? We see this transformation every day, of natural places into a commodity to be bought and sold, as commerce is the true god of our society. The land offers an alternative. Can we transform, can we heal, and provide new life to the land? The Genius Loci waits to transform us and to be transformed in turn, like the butterflies on his hat.
[Media: Acrylic on canvas]
[Label:]My current work, supported by the Myrna Loy grant I received this year, is focused on the sacred landscape of Helena.
All over the world, landscapes are marked by sacred mountains, springs, and caves. As seen in Native American traditions and stories, and in such cultural traditions as Chinese Taoist Feng Shui, the land has a life-energy of its own. We can add to this also military and historical sites, family camping, ranching, and hunting memories and traditions, Christian and Buddhist ways of living, and conservation of our natural resources. Everyone has a special place that is sacred to them, whether it is a special place in nature or the old family place. And if that place is destroyed by the unthinking, the wounds go deep and may never be healed.
On the left is a microcosm, a model of the Helena Valley as the central place in our world as Helenans, marked out by the circumference of mountains and other features. There are multiple landscapes, each with their own center or heart. On the right, there is one of these sacred landscapes, in this case the Catholic landscape, with the St. Helena Cathedral as the heart of that sacred landscape. Besides the Catholic landscape layer seen here, there are many other significant sacred and mysterious landscape layers in and around Helena, such as that of military shrines and graves, of freemasonry, of Native American traditions and archaeological sites of the Blackfeet (Piegan), Flathead (Salish), Kootenai, Shoshone, and others.
[Media: pen/ink, pencil on paper]
Monday, October 29, 2007
[Label:] Ishjinki Vincent Itaro Waduje wok’un ke (Trickster gave his friend Vincent an ear of corn)
In western society, the artist is thought of as a marginal figure, and in the worst cases, prone to eccentricity and even madness. In traditional societies, the artist is an integral part of social life, expressing the inherent values of the society. The Trickster is an ambivalent figure, but one of the good things that he does is cure madness. In this painting, we see what might have happened if the quintessential “mad artist” Vincent Van Gogh would have had the friendship of Trickster. After Vincent cuts off his own ear, Trickster offers him the replacement ear…of corn. And a happy and healed Vincent teases him back, with the rabbit ear sign behind his head and tsk-tsking him for the joke. And in the background, the crows of madness fly away to the sunflower/sun under the framework of the world.
[Media: Acrylic on canvas]
[Label:] Helena has been “discovered” by people looking for a good place to live, just as they have in so many areas in Montana and the West have in years past. Now the new gold rush of development is on, and just as in the last one, the land is impacted. Even the guardian sacred mountain Mt. Helena, which stands as our city’s symbol, is not immune from the ambition and greed of those few who measure all values by the amount in their bank account and the praise of their fellows. The difference between “needs” and “wants” is that “needs” have limits, while “wants” have none.
[Media: Ink and Charcoal on Paper]
[Label:]White Buffalo Calf Woman brought the gift of the Sacred Pipe to the Lakota, the core of their spiritual life as a people. Other tribes gained the sacred pipe and other ceremonies through other cultural heroes and sacred beings. This is one of the illustrations for my graphic novel retelling of the story of the White Buffalo Calf Woman.
[I am currently completing the graphic novel, which I relocated after it was lost for about 20 years!]
[Label:] Tilth is the structure of the soil, seen in the stratigraphy of the earth beneath our feet, like layers of a cake. We start reading from the oldest layer, which is buried deepest, at the bottom, and then work our way up. In this example, the oldest layer is "Nuxe" (NOO-khay: ice), laid down by the glaciers, and then "Ni" (NEE: water, the melting glaciers and erosion), then "Maya" (MAH-yah: the earth built up by the sunlight and decay of plants). Finally, the last layer includes the bodies of those ancestors, "Washige s’age" (WAH-shee-gay S-AH-gay) who have gone before. On top, as we grow our crops and make our city, do we remember the tilth of the soil, made by ages and the bodies of those who have gone on before us? The toy tractor emphasizes how transient and small we are in the scheme of things.
[Media: Wood and panel board; metal toy; acrylic]
Sunday, October 28, 2007
The "Tomah I" exhibit is part of a Myrna Loy
Center Grants to Artists award. Foster will present a
series of mixed media paintings, drawings,
assemblages, and working studies for site-specific
installation focusing on the Helena Valley as a sacred
landscape. Tomah I is the first phase in this exploration.
The Native American culture hero Trickster (called
Ishjinki, in Foster’s Ioway tribe) is our guide
through various, sometimes antithetical, cultural
lenses: Native American ethnogeography, Chinese feng
shui, preindustrial European location/leylines,
American folk tradition, and Catholic pilgrimages. For
example, what is the connection between the continuing
controversy over the urban deer population in Helena,
and the ancient tradition that Helena Valley was
considered by the Salish and the Piegan to be a “game
cache,” a favored place where animals congregated and
could be found in times of scarcity? What does it mean
to be a sacred landscape,?
About the Artist: Lance M. Foster
A graduate of Helena High's class of 1978, Foster is
an alumni of the Institute of American Indian Arts in
Santa Fe, and of Carroll College. He received his B.A.
in Anthropology and Native American Studies from the
University of Montana. He has master's degrees in
Anthropology/Archaeology (M.A.) and Landscape
Architecture (M.L.A.) from Iowa State University.
Lance M. Foster
320 E. Broadway #4
Helena, MT 59601
My one-man art show at the Myrna Loy Center for the Performing Arts in Helena, Montana, was up for the month of October, 2007. The show was part of the "Grants to Artists Award" I was awarded earlier this year. The Center occupies the old County Jail, a fortress-like building. Myrna Loy, of course, was a famous and beautiful film actress, who was from Helena. That's the Center on the left, Myrna on top right, and a nice bust of her at the Center at below right.
My show was called "Tomah I" and focused on the sacred landscape of the Helena Valley. The Helena area was considered a "game pocket" or "game cache" by the indigenous Salish, Kootenai, and Piegan (Blackfeet) tribes. A "game pocket" (Blackfeet: Tomah) is a place where game may always be found, even in times of scarcity elsewhere. I was raised in the Helena Valley. Things were different then. People were different then. I am Indian (yeah, mixed-blood), and my ancestors had to go through this before, seeing the land and buffalo disappear. Now I am going through it myself, seeing the end of the world I knew. Grief is in my blood; I cannot escape it. I shake in grief. I joke a lot, because if laughter does not fill my heart, grief rushes in like a madness.
In the late 1990's, Helena was "discovered" by people from elsewhere, with more money than anyone I grew up with ever thought possible, crowding here in ever greater numbers. Such things have happened previously in places like Kalispell, Missoula, and Livingston. These folks have moved here from all over the U.S., seeking "The Last Best Place," and driving up housing prices and crowding the valley and hills. Sucking the valley water table ever lower. Unfortunately, all the little houses and ranchettes they have built "in the woods" have driven the deer from the hills into town. Deer coming into town was unheard of when I was growing up here. I was shocked at seeing so many people on the Missouri River compared to the old days. I know Norman MacLean, author of "A River Runs Through It," was heartbroken when he saw the onslaught and decimation of the rivers. He said I never would have written that book if I would have known this was going to happen as a result.
No use crying over spilt milk. What's done is done, and there's no going back. But it is important that these new folks understand about this place, the Helena Valley. What makes it special, the sacred places, the history, and the dangers. Before they devour it and turn it into the thousand-other-same-places of Starbucks and Malls that the madding crowds have left elsewhere, speckling the land like pigeon dung, jumping about like locusts from field-to-field. I am not special-cussing out people who are new, because we are all strangers somewhere. I just think you need to do the best you can to fit into a place, and not just rip it to shreds. And the developers from here are worse than the newcomers...those developers and realtors who just care about buying another sleek SUV and fattening their bank accounts are the ones who really will have a special place in hell. I mean, for Pete's sakes, this is MONTANA...we have four-wheel drives, not SUVs! We used to make FUN of rich people in Montana, and now we wag our tails like a bunch of whipped pups!
Yeah, I reckon I like people as much as the next persnickety old cuss, but I don't like crowds. Drives me nuts. I sure as hell don't like people who come in and who destroy things they don't understand. I'm gonna have to learn to deal, because that's how things are now. Maybe someday you'll understand, if you are new; and you already know, if you are from here. Now that you know how grouchy I am, you probably know I am not good at being a salesman! But at least you know when i smile at you, it is real, and I won't be smiling and stabbing you in the back at the same time ;-)