For the month of June Michael Horse and I (Kim Shuck) will be occupying the Kimball Gallery and making stuff. Michael is a painter who works in a style called ledger art. For more info on that style you can hear Michael talking about his work at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0dHIkTTj2U . He is also a jeweler who does both fabrication and a form of casting done in tufa, which is a soft sandstone. I work in a number of media, but will be making poems or beading things this month. There are a few of my poems up on the walls in the gallery and there will be a rotating collection of my beadwork around the place. We are very pleased that the museum has agreed to let us host a few California pieces from their collection for the month. There are two lovely t-necklaces and a flint point. It's important to honor the people of this place and although Michael and I are both of Native descent we are not of local Native descent, so it's nice to have some supervisory work here to help us.
I am the sort who doesn't so much get stage fright as stage impatience. I've been wanting to get this month started for about... well... six months give or take. We've had waves of activity: getting folk together for performance visits ( more on that later), designing and redesigning the space in my head, handing over things to be frozen for the purpose of reassuring the museum that our stuff wasn't buggy (sounds horrible but it's true that some small critters find deer hide and buffalo hide tasty and they do have some expensive trinkets in this joint). The hides are smoked to discourage insect incursion, but I appreciate why they want to reassure themselves. Suddenly it was this morning. I arrived, toting my box. Michael arrived soon thereafter with bunches of paintings. The fantastic public programs staff had printed some of my poetry to put up on the walls. Nothing left but to get started.
I love that the Kimball is painted brown. Since art school I've been anti-white walls, not as political position, rather as an aesthetic one, white walls never quite show my work at it's best. The residency gallery is quite welcoming and comfortable. I did a small happy dance and more or less fooled around while Cynthia and Nicole did all of the work. Please come see the great job they did while Michael and I contributed in minor ways ( I made a great number of little balls of museum putty). As of this writing there are an array of Michael's paintings and my poems on the walls. There is a buffalo hide beaded with a blanket strip on a table where Michael will be painting it. There is/will be a rotating group of my beaded pieces and Michael's silver work on pedestals. There will be different pieces from my collection on my work table from day to day, mostly the work of local artist and elder Dav Pate, who is a friend and mentor. Various friends will be stopping by throughout the month to read poems, perform music, dance, carve, bead, hang out... Saturdays around 1pm are good if you want to catch music or poetry. The rest of it? Well, I could pretend to have a schedule, but really it's just friends coming around for a visit. This is roughly what my actual studio is like, although there are usually tea and cookies in my actual studio. Our arts are aspects of our lives as human people, as Native people. We're glad that you stopped by the blog, we hope that you will stop by the museum and our happy brown room and introduce yourselves.
The day began with a gathered group of friends in the Kimball. My dad even came, and he's usually a bit of a rumor at my shows. I'm aware that the de Young is a world class museum, what I also know is that museums in general are trying for a less imposing vibe. Frequently when Native people have been in museums it is in the form of unattributed work and/or ethnographic displays. This month is very different. No one is taking this residency lightly. Having said all of that, we managed to create the atmosphere of a fairly laid back household celebration. Well-known flute player, Ogi, started us off with some music. It was, as usual, inspiring. Kanyon Sayers-Roods welcomed us to Ohlone territory and sang her version of the Grandmother Song. Cathrine Hererra, local Native and filmmaker was present as friend and event archivist. Additionally, there were many friends/artists/family present to help us 'warm' the space. It was stellar. We had guests all the way through really... Jerry Ferraz, local poet, curator of readings and guitar virtuoso made us some music. Our good friend and elder Dav Pate was present in spirit and in the form of some of his work, which will be on display on a rotating basis throughout the month. Mary Jean Robertson, current holder of a Native Local Hero Award and DJ, came around with music on CDs for when the party died down. It really didn't today, but the time may come... I could not have hoped for a better 'first real day in the gallery'.
When the group thinned a bit (as I said it never really cleared) Michael worked on laying out a painting he's doing on a buffalo hide. I picked a bit at this and that (this being tacking his blanket strip down on his piece, and that being a minor flower detail on a piece I'm almost finished with). I'm cutting leather tonight for the jacket I've planned as my main work while in the gallery, but I didn't work on it today (I think my brain was a bit tired from excitement, and also, there is the performance aspect of being present with the work and interacting with the public, it's something that may be a learning curve for me). People were through fairly regularly during the day. From a serial performer's point of view things went well, as there were ultimately at least as many audience members as performers. There is a strange thing about the door to the gallery, however. I'm not sure why, but some people come part way in and seem to think that they are not allowed farther. We're working on a solution to that issue, I suppose it could be that they don't enjoy their first impressions of our collective work. I'm leaning towards a spatial answer.
Towards the end of the day we had one more, very special guest. A female mallard took a walk over from the Pool of Enchantment and peered intently through the window at the gallery. She hung around for a bit and then sauntered back to her pond.
Those familiar with the ebb and flow of SF weather will not be surprised to hear that fog swirled in in mid-afternoon. If you've never seen the fog arrive in the bandstand area of Golden Gate Park, you should really come see. It creates these exciting kinetic geometries. I hope and expect that these will pull some fun shapes out of me. Anyhow, you should come see. You should also stop into the gallery and say hi.. you know, since you're going to be in the area.
No fewer than 4 people came into the gallery today with a pressing interest in the smell that our presence here is creating. In fact, the building guy came by to see what the smell was. A primer: really good hides are generally smoked. Both Michael and I are working on hide. He is working on a buffalo skin, I am beading on deerskin. My skins are smoked. Smoke smell is one that I don't even really notice anymore, but if anyone ever comes up with a perfume oil called "Wow that traditional dancer is hot looking" it will have sage and sweetgrass notes with a finish of smoked hide.
We had a leap-by squirrel visit today, continuing in our animal interest theme (yesterday it was a female mallard). He came by the window at some speed, but did manage to pause briefly to see if we were doing it right. There is a redtail who hunts around here. She had some lunch in one of the trees and watched us for a bit.
Other visits today included collectors of each of us, spectacular members of the staff and a few people who absolutely learned some things. Michael is very proactive in explaining ledger art. I'm afraid that I tend to mutter incoherently about beads, but it is possible to wrest some sense from me if one is patient. Because yesterday's intern did such an amazing job, today's intern had a bit of time to learn bead embroidery. She's proven quite good at it. Renee, Cynthia and Nicole have solved the spatial problem that was stopping folk at the door. Really things are quite good.
Michael is making progress on his buffalo hunt piece. Not to be missed. I'll be finishing something off tomorrow and deciding on next steps. I'm hoping for more people to come bead, but we'll see.
A few years ago I was given a set of meditation bells in a rosewood box. You were meant to tip the box over and some number of ball bearings inside would adhere to these sticky disks on the top of the box. Then when you flipped it back over the balls would gradually fall in varying patterns of sound. The reality was that you'd get the balls stuck and flip the box and about half of the balls would fall in one foop (foop here meaning flurry) then some time later another foop and so forth. I have not tipped that box in over a year but there are still some hold out bearings that every so often release and sound a bell. That happened this morning . I also got damp basement that had to be dried immediately. Today was pretty interesting, even before I got to the museum. I suppose that everything informs the work eh? So we had a massive foop on Tuesday moving in, now we've had another foop. I imagine that at this point the balls fall more slowly.
In the gallery two really fantastic images have been added to the projection screens, they are of some California dance regalia that is pretty important to the local community. YAY! Regalia is the term that many Native people now use to refer to what we wear for dancing. This might be ceremonial or social dancing, but the outfit is called regalia. That's much of what I make as a bead worker. People come to me and ask for a bit of beadwork, say it's a bag, or a pair of dance shoes (this is a bit of a picky point but the word moccasins is from the Anishinabe language, since most people won't understand the Tsalagi word I just like to call them shoes, many native folk will call them moccasins or mocs... ok I'm a nerd and I think you will find a bit of a pedant). Regalia is what Michael's painted guys are wearing as well.
So I had this whole plan about what I was going to do during this residency... and I've changed it a bit. I had a dream (this isn't a woo woo kind of 'vision' thing, this is just a dream from which I remembered something interesting, non-Native friends of mine have dreams that they work from too... quite garden variety, this design technique). In the dream I had a vest with a pattern of raven feathers on it. It's tough to describe what I'm thinking about - the shapes and color variations- so you will just have to come see. Vest stitched together, no beads on yet. Tomorrow is a good time to come though as we have musical guests.
I want to take a moment to say something that I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about and perhaps alluded to earlier in this writing. Michael and I are both Native. We both work in forms that are particularly associated with Native cultures (past that fact I speak only for myself). Native people tend to have all kinds of special stuff associated with us. Our cultures are still often murky for folks from outside of them. We seem to have shifted, in general perception, from being quite dim-witted generally, to being quite spooky and spiritual. There may be people like that in our communities, likely not more than any other population. It is my opinion that the confusion about Native groups grows best in the fertilizer of these tropes. I want you to come visit the gallery. I'm thrilled to help generate insight about the uses and value of regalia in a modern age. I have to say though, for the record, that you are more likely to encounter silliness than some deep, land-based wisdom. I am a bit of a jester, which I generally do with a very straight face. There is cultural learning to be had from the work that you will find in the Kimball this month, but no more of it then is always available there. I'm not selling snake oil. You could walk barefoot across the sea of my ability to connect you with some deeper wisdom and not get the tops of your feet wet.
At any rate, beaded leather is an art of intimacy. There is beading happening. Come help with the group beading project, talk about materials, techniques and imagery. Come smell the smoked hides. Did you know that peyote stitch comes in at least three forms? I have examples of the two lesser known forms in the gallery. Come see.
Flatteringly a number of people have asked me why I don't make my beading available to the public. I have nothing against the public. This is not a judgment of those who do sell to them; this is not to say that I have not or that I never will again. I just don't sell my work to the average run of folk. There really are things that money cannot buy for you. Here are some reasons.
The first reason is that I don't have to. These days I'm asked to make something about once a week. If you figure that most things will take about a week that sounds like a good rate of project pile up. When you figure that some things can take a month you can see how the projects stack. When you add in that I write as well, have kids in my house, need to do the periodic load of laundry and like to breathe from time to time you can see that I'm pressed. I have about two year's worth of projects in the queue. These projects range from beading pipe bags to shoes to vests. The pieces will grow up to be used by traditional doctors, dancers and museums (not many museums, most museums are also the public as far as I'm concerned). I'm in the blessed art position of not having to do work that I don't want to do. I'm also blessed with more work than I CAN do and I hope that my eyes hold out.
The second reason is that my work is either terribly expensive or free. Hunh? Yeah. If I accept a commission from someone that takes a month to do then that person is paying for my month, about 40 years of experience and materials. I'm expensive. I'm not expensive for what I do. I'm not expensive in the range of beaders like myself. It is, however, not boutique level pricing. It is sometimes not even gallery level pricing. The free part is harder to explain. There are members of my community who give so much to the group generally that it is not done to charge them. There are people whose need is such that it is not done to charge them. There are gifts/donations. About half of my work is given away. I get gifts back. Sometimes I wonder if I'm not getting the better side of the deal most of the time. Nevertheless, expensive or free.
Most people don't need me to be the one to bead something for them. If you want a stunning hairclip, hatband or belt buckle go to the next pow wow in your area. There are amazing artists selling their work at almost every one. Go dance. Bring one-dollar bills for the blanket dances. See regalia in motion. Buy stuff from vendors. Support the community. What do I mean that projects don't need me? When I make a pair of dance shoes for someone I make the shoes so that the leather is something I want to work on. I bead to a point and then try the shoes on again and make the person walk. I make sure that the beading won't pull strangely. I make sure that the unique stress points are reinforced. If the client doesn't dance, they don't need me to do the beading.
I work for friends, family and community members. I'm paid as often in materials and food as I am in dollars. I'm paid in getting to see my work at events. I'm paid by seeing a gift given and the recipientís reaction. I'm paid in trade. Sometimes I take on projects that sound really cool. Sometimes someone recommends a friend to me. Sometimes my stuff is available at an auction for a community fund raiser. There are a few auctions/raffles coming up, drop me an email from my website and Iíll be happy to say where and when.
I am thrilled and delighted that people have liked my work so much that they want to own some. I wish that I were more people so that I could get everything done. I hope that this explains my position.
It would likely be a mistake to judge the relative activity of Sundays in the gallery by the example of just the one. Today was, however, quite slow in terms of visitors. Right up to the very last half hour we had only a few folk come and visit. This gives me the chance to mention the musicians who came by yesterday and yet somehow didn't get written about (I have an undeniably whimsical way of looking at a day and apologize to natoyiniinastumiik and Ed Dang). Yesterday's visitors provided some wonderful music and enhanced the gallery experience quite a bit. This month's performances have been/will be more along the lines of sharing than formal performing, with the exception of the final Friday. Anyway, the musicians were well received and certainly made me happy. They will be back on the third Saturday for those who missed them.
The slowness of today helped me make some progress on the beading. I'm in the honeymoon phase with the project. I still like everything about it. About three quarters through I'll wonder what I was thinking.... that is if I'm lucky and am working hard enough. I generally find that if I don't get a little unhappy with any art piece it's because I'm not reaching hard enough. By the end all is usually forgiven and I like the object again.
The group projects, both beading and drawing, that Michael and I have set up, are progressing. Today's assistant got a chunk of Sutro tower in on the beading.
In an interesting show of support we have had at least one person we already knew come visit every day and usually more. There have been folks from the Native communities through quite regularly. Most of them, at least the one's I know, already know our work so it must be assumed that they are here to see us in this space. I'm happy enough to be seen here. I believe we are getting some teaching done. So there's a week. I'm assuming that now that we have a feel for how this goes, next week will be even better.