Monday, December 5, 2011

Helena-Related Images by Lance Foster

I live in Helena, Montana, have since I was a little kid, though I went away starting in college, to get educated and see some of the world...and then I came home. Now that I am done with the "Palimpsest Murals" (Dragon Gate, etc. downtown by the yellow trolley), I am thinking about some new inspiration for some work focusing on this place. Here are some images specific to Helena...a variety, from sketches and cartoons, to photos and paintings...
I also did a walking map of the Rodney Street Neighborhood where I live, but I haven't scanned it yet. The following image is a page from a graphic novel collaboration by several artists, and this is one of my contributions. It's about Manhattan, not about Helena, but what the heck, I just wanted to show you anyways...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Winter is the Time of Storytelling

Winter is the traditional time for storytelling for most Native American tribes, including mine, the Ioway. From the first snow until the snakes wake up in the spring, because the traditions are that the snakes are guardians of the sacred myths and will bite you if they overhear your telling the stories.

Illustration: "Only Stories" by Lance Foster

The Iowa Indians (or Ioway Indians) lived in Iowa for ages untold. Iowa culture and history was passed on though stories. Stories might be of the long-ago time or of prophecies for the future. The stories told people how to live in this world and how to prepare for the next one. In "Only Stories," by Ioway artist Lance M. Foster (Hengruh: "Oldest Son"), it is winter, the traditional time of telling stories. At this time, snakes, the protectors of stories, were asleep and would not hear the stories they were told to defend by Wakanda, God. Here two families are visiting the warmth of their lodge, the chakiruthan. One man is telling a story of the past as well as a story of the future. The time of the past, of the coming of the Ioway clan ancestors, becomes the story of the future, the coming of a strange group of bearded whitemen with machines. Finally, the end of time becomes the beginning of time. In this way, everything becomes a circle and things are made right again. This is the way things have been and will be. This is what the stories tell us. As hard as it may be to believe, can we be certain they are..."Only Stories?"

I created this mini-graphic novel version of one of our Ioway tribal stories, about the origin of the Medicine Dance.

For the rest, go to
 Click the numbers at the bottom of the page to get to the next page.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"Palimpsest" Mural Series Celebration

The article in the Helena Independent Record about the opening of the mural yesterday (1 pm, Wed., Nov. 16, 2011). It was cold but sunny, and a couple of dozen folks showed up to help celebrate and learn about the murals. Hot Oolong tea and fortune cookies supplied by Yat Son Chinese restaurant in East Helena kept folks warm-- thanks!

Public art keeps Chinatown memory

By MARGA LINCOLN, Independent Record | Posted: Thursday, November 17, 2011
Photos by Eliza Wiley, Independent Record

Lance Foster stands under a gateway entitled ‘Sometimes I Feel Like Chinese Take Out’ as he explains his thought process of each mural he painted.

Memories of a once-bustling Chinatown in Helena are the inspiration for the newest public art murals on the Trolley Block of the Downtown Walking Mall.
Mural artist Lance Foster recalled his childhood growing up in Helena and how much he loved to visit downtown.

First, catching the eye is his mural “Dragon Gate,” which features a bold green dragon stretching up a red archway or gate, next to the Windbag Saloon. On its backside is “Memory Wall,” which gives a view of the once-thriving block and its busy shops — Wing Shing Grocery, Yat Son Noodle Parlor, House of Wong and others. All traces of that vital neighborhood were erased by urban renewal projects decades ago. Foster also painted a portrait of Wong See Q, which he says represents the workers who labored here and on the railroad.

A second Foster gateway depicts a Chinese carry-out food box, whimsically titled, “Sometimes I Feel Like Chinese Take Out.”

On the backside of it is “Dorothy’s Room,” depicting the round red bed of Helena’s last madam, Big Dorothy. Her brothel was next door in the current Windbag Saloon building.
A few steps deeper in this alley is a final gateway, called “Urban Renewal, 1973-1977,” which depicts T.O.K. Garage, one of the places Foster remembers fondly. It stood where the Lewis and Clark Library is today.

Foster named the series of murals, “Palimpsest: Memory that has been erased and re-written.”

The word means a surface that was erased, then reused, leaving a faint and incomplete trace of the old, Foster said.

A crowd of art lovers gathers behind the ‘Dragon Gate’ as artist Lance Foster explains the opposing side’s mural Wednesday on the Trolley Block of the Downtown Walking Mall. Foster was commissioned by the Helena Public Art Committee to paint the gateways on the north side of the Windbag Saloon.

A few former neighborhood residents joined officials at the Wednesday dedication of the new art installations. For them, it was a bittersweet event.

Diane Langenfus, whose family ran the House of Wong, said “I grew up down here.” Like many in the neighborhood, they lived above their business. “This is the playground we had as children,” she said, gesturing toward the former busy neighborhood street.
While she is moved that the murals honor her former neighborhood, there is sadness over what was lost. Quoting Helena writer Flora Wong, Langenfus said, “You took my home and my history with Urban Renewal.”

Foster, whose mother ran the Outpost Cafe, attended the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M. He earned a graduate degree in landscape architecture and anthropology and teaches archaeology and art at UM-Helena.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Urban Renewal

The fifth and final mural of the St. Louis Block murals is now complete, as of last week. I wasn't sure if I would succeed in a race against the winter weather, but fate was kind and I worked hard.

The final mural is called "Urban Renewal, 1973-1977" and is painted in the same style and mostly monochromatic palette used for the "Memory Wall."

The source photo used as the departure point for the painting was a historic photo of the old T.O.K. Garage at the end of South Main, about where the Lewis and Clark Public Library is now (source here, along with a discussion of the demolition for Urban Renewal).

The background of the stained concrete was integrated into the painting, with some areas left sketchy and some fully rendered and detailed, to reflect the idea of erasure, disappearance, and memory.

Finally, the series of five murals, each mural with its own title, also has a single umbrella title for the murals, "Palimpsest." This unifies all of the murals on the St. Louis Block. And the information about the sponsors was painted on as well, on the lower left side.

What does "Palimpsest" mean? As I wrote on the wall of this last mural:

A surface on which something was written,
then erased,
then reused to write something new,
leaving faint, incomplete traces of the old.

The Helena "Palimpsest" Mural Series, St. Louis Block, Last Chance Gulch:

1. "Dragon Gate"
2. "Memory Wall: The Historic Chinese Community of Helena"
3. "Sometimes I Feel Like Chinese Takeout"
4. "Dorothy's Room"
5. "Urban Renewal, 1973-1977"

Re-painting Dorothy's Room

Well, unfortunately the sign peeled from the wall, even though adhesive was used as well as two coats of polyurethane over that. The employees at the Windbag during one of their breaks watched it slowly peel away. Maybe it was the temperature, or the uneven nature of the concrete, but it was agreed that there was no point in trying to reapply it if it peeled even when new.

So instead, four headlines were picked from regional newspapers when Dorothy's closed, and I painted those instead. Only the headlines were used. I sure didn't want to paint every single word in the articles themselves! And the weather was starting now to drop into below freezing temperatures.

One idea had been to paint Dorothy's portrait on the left side. There are photos in the Windbag that some believe to be Dorothy. But after further research at the Montana Historical Society, a letter from 2006 was found, from Dorothy's niece to the Society, which denied those photos were of her aunt. The niece said Dorothy did not like photos of her and did not allow them to be taken. Only the one from her high school yearbook photo in the 1920s and her booking photo are of Dorothy.

So who is that other woman in the photos in the Windbag cases at the back of the room? It may very well be Dorothy's predecessor, Ida, of Ida's Rooms. Ida is the one who sold the business to Dorothy in the late 1950s (ca. 1956-57).

Monday, October 3, 2011

Painting the Mural: "Dorothy's Room"

A lot of people think that "Big Dorothy" operated her bordello in the Windbag. But it was really upstairs, above the Windbag, with the entrance in the rear at 19 1/2. A lot also apparently think, based in part on the Windbag's "Old West" graphics, that it was back in the 1800s that the place was a bordello. But the building, the St. Louis block, was built as a drygoods store back in 1882. And it wasn't until 1927 during the Prohibition that Ida ran her bordello called "Ida's Rooms" in the building. And it wasn't until the late 1950s that Dorothy bought the business and renamed it "Dorothy's Rooms," which was closed down in 1973.

My painting shows the infamous round red bed at Dorothy's, based on a photo from "Helena As She Was" ( I simplified it, added the ashtray with burning cigarette, and tweaked the colors to be more lurid looking, inspired by Van Gogh's "The Night Café." He said: "I have tried to express the terrible passions of humanity by means of red and green. ...In my picture of the Night Café I have tried to express the idea that the café is a place where one can ruin oneself, go mad or commit a crime." Notice not only the burning cigarette (and everyone smoked in those days) but the marks on the bed like someone was just sitting or reclining there. It is called "Dorothy's Room" (singular) rather than Dorothy's Rooms. The houseplant is a dracaena marginata, or "dragon tree," not "palm trees" as some speculated, and was in the original photo. It is an interesting coincidence that this "dragon tree" thus links with the Dragon Wall!

Above is a replica-enlargement of a 1973 article in the Walla Walla, Washington newspaper on the closing of the establishment and the death of Dorothy soon after. It was printed out by Signs Now in downtown Helena and applied with adhesive. I decided to make the article very big, to look like a crime novel in a way, and although some might find the fact that the article has a missing section annoying, it also reminds us that we really never know the full story about anything.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Local TV News does story on the murals

Helena history murals 

on downtown walking mall

For several months now, local artist Lance Foster 
has been using his spare time to put up a series 
of murals in the downtown walking mall.
Foster was selected by the city to do the project two years 
ago. It's now nearing completion. Foster is focusing on 
what he remembers of the area as a child – namely the 
Chinatown area of downtown Helena and Big Dorothy's 
rooms, a long-closed bordello.
He says it's his way of celebrating all parts of Helena 
history, even if they were fringe elements of society in 
their time.
"It's part of who we are and as it says on the mural of 
Dorothy, any town that doesn't recognize its colorful side 
is a boring town to live in,” says Foster.
The murals are painted on entranceways in an alley off 
of the walking mall. The door frames allowed Foster a little 
fun – you can have your picture taken as if you're on 
Dorothy's bed or in a Chinese take-out box.

Story by Ryan Whalen, Beartooth NBC. Copyright ©2011
Beartooth Communications Company. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Painting the Mural: "Sometimes I Feel Like Chinese Takeout"

Start of Chinese Take-out Mural, painted the week of Sept. 16. Still to go: finishing the wire handle, the red characters on the carton, the title, and some touches of color here and there.

The wall completed. "Sometimes I feel like Chinese takeout" is a reference to this location being the hotspot for fantastic Chinese food for decades in Helena until Urban Renewal tore down the restaurants in the early 1970s. But also you can stand in the opening and -really- feel like you are Chinese takeout, and get your photo taken there to prove it!

Painting the Mural: Memory Wall

Behind the Dragon Wall, I painted the Memory Wall. I do not have the sequence on this one, as the photographer was away at that time and my camera was out of commission. It was begun Aug. 18 and completed Sept. 15. School began Aug. 29 and from then on I could only paint three mornings a week, so it took more time than otherwise it would have.

Helena once had a thriving Chinese community (aka Helena Chinatown) which reached from where the library is now, over to Reeder's Alley and up to the Chinese gardens at the split to Unionville and Grizzly Gulch. There were hundreds of Chinese that worked and lived here between 1865 through the 1890s, but they began to leave over the later decades until by the 1950s there were only a fraction of what there were previously. Abuse and racism took their toll. There had been Chinese physicians and herbalists, restaurants, stores, groceries, hotels, laundries, gaming houses. By the 1970s, there were pretty much only three descendant families left in Helena, to all accounts.

The completed Memory Wall. 
The art style is influenced by the Ashcan School of urban New York during the early 1900s and Muriel Wolle's paintings of the mining camps in Montana... I wanted it to be intimate, familiar, gritty, industrial. Wong See Q. was a leader in the Helena Chinese community.

List of historical sites in Helena with Chinese heritage.
These are the ones remembered by the descendant families still connected to Helena. There were once hundreds of Chinese and their businesses, most now lost to memory.

Helena in Chinese characters. 
Written Chinese is not alphabetic, each character represents an idea or word, but can also represent a syllable. Each of these three characters represents one of the three syllables in Helena, although it is pronounced differently in different Chinese languages, such as Cantonese (the Chinese language spoken by the great majority of Helena's Chinese population historically) and Mandarin (a northern language used as the common language by most in modern China).

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Painting the Mural: Dragon Gate: Week 2

I continued painting the Dragon Gate during week 2.

Mon., Aug. 22: I began painting the large fields of color. Dark green for the head and the mountainscape (South Hills and Mount Helena). Pale green for the body and mane. Yellow-orange for the whiskers, claws, eyebrows, spine, and tail tuft on the dragon, and the Pearl of Wisdom/Sun. A longer day than usual, but felt good about getting the dragon's primary colors on. 5 hours.

Tues., Aug. 23: Used a sort of gray-purple-black to outline the head, eyes, teeth/mouth, talons, and the rest of the dragon. Really makes it "pop out" at last. Added another coat of reddish-brown to fill in some spaces and thin areas. 4 hours.

Now comes a critical point in painting, as in all paintings. Deciding when it is done. Not doing enough means it looks unfinished to viewers...and is incompletely realized and unsatisfactory to the artist. BUT...You can also go too far and add too much and ruin a painting that way too. So the next day or two, and I have to be careful. I know I want to add to the clouds (cream gold with pink scrolling), and also add scales on the dragon. The scales are tricky, with so many to do, and they need to look uniform.

Wed., Aug. 24: Today, the scales. Trying to paint so many uniformly-sized things has a lot of potential for things to go wrong. So I cut a guide out of an old plastic lid. It worked pretty well, although it was slow and took a long time. I added some green lines along the back and limbs which popped it out further. I added a creamy yellow-white over parts of the cool white areas which warmed up the clouds and picked out the teeth and eyes. 5 hours.

Thurs., Aug. 25: Finished the pearl/sun, talons/wrinkles, clouds, touch-up various places (drips, streaks). Picked up varnish from paint store. 4 hours.

Fri., Aug. 26: Signed and dated the mural. Final Clearcoat Sealant; applied two coats, with 2 hours drying time in between them. 5 hours, with 3 of those actual working hours, and 2 drying hours.

FINISHED with the Dragon Gate, mural #1 of the series! Next will be the Chinese Memory Wall, to be started next week.

Painting the Mural: Dragon Gate: Week 1

I started on the mural a little over a week ago. This is the progress so far.

Fri., Aug. 12: Powerwashed the three gates (I keep wanting to say "arches" but they are not arches, just a series of gated supports along a walkway). Allowed to dry fully over the weekend. The site attracts a lot of grafitti, which will be an ongoing issue I suspect. 1 hour.

Mon., Aug. 15: Got supplies from Columbia, along with arranging for barriers and tape, etc. Had to go with supervisor as she has to sign off on every order personally (city process). 1 hour. Scaffold brought on site by city.

Tues., Aug. 16: Applied Loxon conditioner today as a sealer and primer using a roller on the surfaces to be painted, front and back of first gate. It is a clear coating, which means you can paint right over it. Certain colors will cover it satisfactorily, like white and the reddish background. For brighter colors I will need to apply white primer in those areas first. Ordered some more paint and do some further design tinkering at home this afternoon. There is a difference between paper/digital stuff and the REAL physical environment :-) 2 hours.

Wed., Aug. 17: Blocked in most of background, a reddish color like red clay. Some white applied in areas of clouds and part of dragon. 4 hours.

Thurs., Aug. 18: Draw dragon, all freehand directly in paint (magenta). I had to change the pose a little from the original design because of the discontinuity in the concrete wall at the top which would distort it otherwise. I had originally thought of gridding it, but I like the freshness and vitality of a freehand line. Got the dragon, pearl (used 5-gallon lid as template), mountains, clouds (with swirls) drawn in now on the dragon gate. 5 hours.

Fri., Aug. 19: Some minor vandalism wiped off and I repainted over it. Whited-in areas of dragon and pearl, in preparation for next week's color application. It looks pretty good so far! This is all taking longer than I thought. 4 hours.

(Thanks to Carol Montgomery of the Helena Public Art Committee for the photos!)

Next week: More colors

Sunday, July 24, 2011


Posted in 1870-1879 on April 2nd, 2009 by
Lance Foster

Dog Gulch Standard, June 5, 1873
Edward Grenois Found Murdered

Dog Gulch - The halfbreed Edward Grenois, age 28, was found murdered this morning, lying behind the Pearl Handle Saloon, shot three times, once in the back and twice in the head. Harvey Schissler is currently the primary suspect. His whereabouts are currently unknown, though it is said his trail leads north. Evidence is being carefully gathered, given the respected position of his father, Jacob Schissler, proprieter of the Mahcomet Trading Post.

Well-liked among most of the Gulch’s citizens, Grenois had claimed to be a grandson of Pierre-August Grenois. He quickly became a well-known figure in the area, and always dressed dapper in his frock coat and marten hat. He arrived in Dog Gulch last year, during the 1869 rush, and made a placer claim on the Gulch near the site of old Apekuni House, which had been founded by his grandfather. Edward Grenois worked the claim for a time, and got some color, but soon came to prefer the amusements of the dance halls and the company of ladies. Grenois also was said to be spending much time in the local land office.
Earlier this year, Grenois was seen by several people arguing in the street with his close friend Harvey Schissler, the son of Jacob Schissler, with whom he often visited the places of entertainment in Dog Gulch. But they made up soon after, often retiring to the Schissler home after a night on the town. Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Schissler had taken Grenois into their home during an illness, during which time he became part of the Schissler family and was treated as a brother to Harvey. They were boon companions in all occasions.
Everyone noted how Mrs. Schissler doted on the young men, and Mr. Schissler often talked about employing Grenois at the family business, the Mahcomet Trading Post. Who could have foreseen such a turn of events.
It is a tragedy indeed when such a fine family is involved in such a situation as this. The people of Dog Gulch hope for a speedy resolution so that the family may find peace such as possible in these tragic circumstances.

Pierre-Auguste Grenois

Posted in 1810-1819 on April 10th, 2009 by
Lance Foster

Pierre-Auguste Grenois was a metis furtrapper who passed through the Greenway area in 1793, returning to establish Apekuni House to trade with the Blackfeet in 1795. The drawing is from 1812, by an itinerant peddler, artist, and preacher by the name of “Father Badger” Jones; Jones wandered through the region, often shouting to himself as “moved by the Holy Spirit,” and was considered “touched” and was thus left alone by the Native tribes. In 1813, Grenois died of smallpox and Apekuni House was abandoned.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Little More About Me and Art

I am teaching an online art appreciation course for the next month or so. One of my students asked me about my degree in anthropology and how it connected to art. This was my answer:

"I actually have been an artist since before I was five-- back then I specialized in drawing lions and cyclops, and I loved the art of Dr. Seuss! My interest in other cultures, mythology, and art has been with me all my life.

You know in grade school and high school, you have "the nerd," "the jock," etc., and "the artist." I was one of the kids people knew as "the artist" (we didn't even have the word "nerd" way back here in Helena then!) But I was also interested in different world cultures and my tribal roots. I also won a prize for my drawing in Electrum back then, and would rather draw in my notebook than do math smile I thought I'd be a professional artist one day. I drew American Indian stuff, dinosaurs, animals, monsters, sci-fi stuff, etc.

When I went to Missoula in the fall of 1978 (I graduated Helena High in 1978 spring), I took a bunch of different classes, including studio arts. The big thing at the time was modern art there, which I really disliked, as I wanted to do wildlife art, western art, science fiction-fantasy, and religious art. But the art department was unfriendly to realistic art at the time, so after fighting the teachers, I bailed on that idea. The next year (1979-80), I stayed home in Helena, I went to Carroll, tried a few things, didn't like it, and mainly devoted my time to painting and drawing.

I am part American Indian and was interested in studying the Native American tribes, culture and history at the time, including the arts. There was an old gent named Eddie Barbeau here in Helena back then. He owned the property where the Town Pump is now, over by Costco. He had a barn, house, and other stuff there, and he also set up tipis. He was a friend of the family, and we used to help him with Indian projects, like painting the tipis. So for me, Indian stuff and art stuff has always been connected.

In 1980-81 I attended the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Mainly I studied painting there, but also did some sculpture, ceramics, and jewelry. But they didn't have a BA so I went to U of Montana in Missoula, and finally got my BA in Anthropology as that allowed me to study both culture and the arts, without being dragged into the abstract art stuff in the art department there. It wasn't my cup of tea.

But fashions change in art. That was thirty years ago, and realism has returned in fashion. I also have learned to appreciate the abstract (or better-said, "nonrepresentational" art) forms more, so I very well understand others when they say "Is THAT art?? I could do THAT! A little kid could do THAT!" But I have learned myself since my twenties more about that kind of art, and so that is some of what I will share with you.

I have two Masters graduate degrees, one in Anthropology/Archaeology, specializing in material culture and art, and a separate Masters in Landscape Architecture, specializing in landscape history. Landscape Architecture is a design degree, and having a graduate degree in a design field is what enables me to teach a design/art course. I am still an artist too. I will be painting a mural downtown here in Helena this summer for example. You can also see some of my art at my art blog."

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

One-Minute Video Sample of My Art

A one-minute video sample of my art.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Update: St. Louis Block: New "Dragon Gate" and "Memory Wall"

Through continuing consultation with the descendants of Helena's historic Chinese community, I have re-designed portions of the mural, including the new "Dragon Gate" and the "Memory Wall" on the first arch.

A new Dragon Gate image for the entry of the St. Louis Block mural. [Note, Oct. 11, 2011: The building is not the Boston Block, which is south one building, but the St. Louis Block, named for the St. Louis Hotel which was connected at the rear of the building when it was first built.] Rather than the blue Ming Dynasty plate with dragon and phoenix first proposed, I re-designed this entry arch/wall after consultation with members of Helena's Chinese community descendants. See the older design with blue plate and other elements here(the Dorothy wall is to be moved, the Feng Shui wall replaced, and a new Memory Wall instead, as described below). I am moving the Dorothy wall from its location in the first design (click the link above), from right behind this entry wall, back one archway to where the "feng shui" wall was originally, facing the stairs at the rear. This is more appropriate since the Chinese elements will be kept together conceptually and visually this way and the real Dorothy's Rooms entrance was facing the rear of the building anyways.


Below is the new Dragon Gate, as proposed [The final dragon as painted, looks a bit different, in order to avoid the discontinuity in the wall above], followed by source material excerpts on the Chinese Dragon with its symbolism and traditions.

In Chinese art, dragons are typically portrayed as long, scaled, serpentine creatures with four legs. In yin and yang terminology, a dragon is yang and complements a yin fenghuang "Chinese phoenix".

In contrast to European dragons, which are considered evil, Chinese dragons traditionally symbolize potent and auspicious powers, particularly control over water, rainfall, hurricane, and floods. The dragon is also a symbol of power, strength, and good luck.

...The 5-clawed dragon was assigned to represent the Emperor while the 4-clawed and 3-clawed dragons were assigned to the commoners.

...The Han Dynasty scholar Wang Fu recorded Chinese myths that long dragons had nine anatomical resemblances.

The people paint the dragon's shape with a horse's head and a snake's tail. Further, there are expressions as 'three joints' and 'nine resemblances' (of the dragon), to wit: from head to shoulder, from shoulder to breast, from breast to tail. These are the joints; as to the nine resemblances, they are the following: his horns resemble those of a stag, his head that of a camel, his eyes those of a demon, his neck that of a snake, his belly that of a clam (shen, 蜃), his scales those of a carp, his claws those of an eagle, his soles those of a tiger, his ears those of a cow. Upon his head he has a thing like a broad eminence (a big lump), called [chimu] (尺木). If a dragon has no [chimu], he cannot ascend to the sky.

Further sources give variant lists of the nine animal resemblances. Sinologist Henri Doré lists these characteristics of an authentic dragon: "The horns of a deer. The head of a camel. A demon's eyes. The neck of a snake. A tortoise's viscera. A hawk's claws. The palms of a tiger. A cow's ears. And it hears through its horns, its ears being deprived of all power of hearing." He notes that, "Others state it has a rabbit's eyes, a frog's belly, a carp's scales." The anatomy of other legendary creatures, including the chimera and manticore, is similarly amalgamated from fierce animals.

...Many pictures of oriental dragons show a flaming pearl under their chin. The pearl is associated with wealth, good luck, and prosperity.

...and further...

Some individuals suffer from the misconception that the Chinese Dragon is a symbol of evil. This erroneous belief stems from the mythology of the western world where the dragon was thought to abduct maidens, wreak havoc on the populace, steal gold and destroy villages. In the mediaeval context the Western dragon was often the symbol of Satan incarnate. This is not so in the dragons of the orient. In fact it is just the opposite. The dragons of China and Japan are almost exclusively benevolent mythological creatures. In fact they are so different in nature from Western Dragons that it may be more reasonable to consider them as dissimilar creatures, rather than as the same creature interpreted differently.

The Chinese call the dragon 'lung' (long) because it is deaf. It is the largest of scaly animals, and it has the following nine characteristics. Its head is like a camels, its horns like a deer's, its eyes like a hare's, its ears like a bull's, its neck like an iguana's, its belly like a frog's, its scales like those of a carp, its paws like a tiger's, and its claws like an eagle's. It has nine times nine scales, it being the extreme of a lucky number.

On each side of the dragons mouth are whiskers, under its chin or floating just out of reach is a bright pearl, on the top of its head the 'poh shan' or foot rule, without which it cannot ascend to heaven.

...The Dragon Pearl
The luminous ball or pearl often depicted under the dragon's chin or seen to be spinning in the air, pursued by one or two dragons is thought to be a symbolic representation of the 'sacred pearl' of wisdom or yang energy. Pearl symbolism, like lunar symbolism arises from Daoist roots and the connections, are extremely complex. This pearl can be said to stand most often for 'truth' and 'life' - perhaps even everlasting life which is made available to those who perceive the truth and attain enlightenment.

The dragon's pearl can also be thought of as a symbol for universal Qi the progenitor of all energy and creation. The dragons seem to be depicted in attitudes of pursuit. He is seen to be reaching out eagerly to clutch at the elusive object, mouth open in anticipation and eyes bulging with anticipation of achieving the prize afforded by clutching the pearl.

In connection with the dragon the pearl has been called the image of thunder, of the moon, of the sun, of the egg emblem of the dual influences of nature, and the 'pearl of potentiality'. The pearl is most often depicted as a spiral or a globe. In some paintings it is sometimes red, sometimes gold, sometimes the bluish white of a true pearl. The pearl is often accompanied by little jagged flashes that seem to spark out from it, like flames; and it almost always has an appendage in the form of a small undulating sprout, not unlike the first young shoot from a bean.

In Daoist concepts the moon, pearls, dragons and serpents are inextricably linked. Like the snake that is reborn when it sheds its skin, the moon is reborn each month, and both are symbols of immortality.


The originally proposed feng shui wall is removed. Instead, a "Memory Wall" with photos and names from Helena's Chinese community, Chinese-owned businesses and sites, and one of its first Chinese citizens, Wong See Q. The new Memory Wall will be located on the entry arch right behind this new Dragon Gate. The new Memory Wall (working draft, with additional sites/businesses to be added) and the facing arch with "Chinese Takeout" is below.