Nine thousand years removed
From the scenes my ancestors loved,
Blue-foam beach, abalone shell
What is America to me?
For the early part of my life, “race” defined quite a lot of the boundaries of my world. When you grew up poor AND brown, for some people in the United States (US), it was a double sin. In their minds (perhaps), it was enough that you were a “foreigner,” but having the audacity to be one of the poor, huddled masses, as well, was unforgivable.
I had been told many times, even as a child, “Go back to where you came from” and “You people ruin this country.” Except where I “Came From” is California — where my mother “Came From” is California. She is a full Native Pomo, reaching back 9,000 years.
My mother always told me that “We” were the “Real Americans.” Everyone else should “go back to where THEY came from.” As a child, this sounded even worse, since I knew what it felt like not to be wanted, even by people whose parents had come to the US, perhaps just 70 years ago…
Very early on, my mother had been adopted. For the next 25 years, she would know that she was “different” (being Native-looking) but not knowing her tribe or her past. She told me she had been adopted by a very kind Italian-American man and his a not-so-kind wife.
After her turbulent childhood, she had managed to track her mother down and learn about her Pomo ancestry and some of her background before being put up for adoption. Sadly, this never turned into a proper relationship because of my biological grandmother’s mental illness and hostility towards my mother.
Growing up with such a difficult past and perhaps even facing discrimination for her appearance (Big, “Indian” and “mean looking” would be a proper description I believe, much to the pleasure of my mother…), she naturally gravitated toward other Natives and sadly fell into the crowd where alcohol and drug use were commonplace. It’s a long subject, but take it on my word that Natives lack the ability to process alcohol properly, leading them to alcoholism more easily than other groups.
As a teenager, I had been turned off “choosing sides” by rampant racism, nationalism and just the pure stupidity I had seen, both within my family and outside. I wanted to be just me: an artist, a person, and someone who loved the natural world. Could I be called a “Native American or Pomo” artist? Had my tenuous connections to my tribe affected my art? Was my handcrafting genetic?
I had seen some of the amazing Pomo baskets and artifacts at the Oakland Museum and knew my ancestors, or relatives made them somewhere near Clear Lake or Santa Rosa, California. Did their patterns influence my art?
I wondered about that as I carved an art comb from a rather unique material: mammoth ivory from the bottom of the North Sea in the Netherlands. First, the design motif: I wanted to create a unique design style with organic flow, as my work would incorporate only so-called ‘organic’ materials and gemstones. The center jewel is abalone, like the necklaces of the Pomo.
The piece of mammoth ivory I used is around 60,000 years old, judging by the material conditions and the hardness of the ivory. Using hand tools almost exclusively, I carefully crafted the comb in my ‘Atlantis’ design style, which took over 3 months of extended work.
This comb is unique in being the only finely carved Mammoth Ivory art comb in existence. The ornamentation comes from my soul. It found a special place in the heart of the person who owns it. I am available to create other custom pieces, by request.