Why the ambitious title? Well, I finally happened upon my first fossil. We were hiking a grassland area near a Chadron formation (from 37-34 million years ago) at Badlands National Park. Springtime rain had eroded the slopes of the formation, carrying down previously buried fossil remains. This is of a turtle shell. The find reminded me of the slowness of time yet signified the animal's persistence today. I heard echoes of the tale, "Turtle and the Hare". I sure hope that's true for artists, as well - Persistence + Time = Significance.
The Oglala Sioux live on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The Pine Ridge is a land of contrasts. The rolling prairies and lack of roads, gas stations, chain restaurants, and convenience stores free up landscape vistas. There is almost no litter along the highway and many people walk along side. There are long distances between poor but close-knit communities where the schools, health centers, Oglala Lakota College centers share pride of place.
I had recently learned that reservations are sovereign entities equivalent to the states. During my encounters at Pine Ridge, I found it important to respect this separateness and to be vigilant about questioning my assumptions. At the same time, I intended to be mindful of and to foster connection-making whenever I could to Badlands National Park, the school curriculums, and place.
Lady of Lourdes School
I drove almost 2 hours from the Park to my first assignment, Lady of Lourdes school. I received a warm welcome. The principal told me how much the community appreciates this outreach especially since they have no budget for art supplies and instruction. A possible donation opportunity?
I taught 3rd thru 5th graders to make kites inspired by the Badlands landscape and prairie ecosystem. We connected the functions of kite string, sail, struts, and tail to prairie grass structures. I was surprised to learn that the majority of students had never visited Badlands National Park. (Note to self: prepare for next gig with more visual references and continue to be mindful of the distances that separate us even to this day.)
Interesting spiritual connections here... The school site contains a grotto where an elder of the tribe was visited by a holy woman. Thus the name of this Catholic school, Lady of Lourdes, harkens to when St. Bernadette was visited by a beautiful, holy Lady in a grotto near Lourdes (France) in 1858. I taught in the school's chapel and noticed these beautiful Lakota 10 commandments:
1) Treat the Earth and all that dwell therein with respect.
2) Remain close to the Great Spirit
3) Show great respect for your fellow beings
4) Work together for the benefit of all Mankind
5) Give assistance and kindness wherever needed
6) Do what you know to be right
7) Look after the well-being of Mind and Body
8) Dedicate a share of your efforts to the greater Good
9) Be truthful and honest at all times
10) Take full responsibility for your actions
Wounded Knee School
Wounded Knee School is near where the massacre of the same name took place. The community is very poor. A teacher told me that no one in his students' families was employed. Yet, the school was clean with attractive cultural symbols decorating the halls. Noteworthy too - the 5h grade students I taught were even less familiar with the Badlands National Park landscape than those from Lady of Lourdes.
I taught a kite-making class as a break from a week of standardized testing. In contrast to the right and wrong answers engendered by the tests, we had fun talking about artistic sovereignty where each of their expressions is valid. One student asked whether hair stylists could be artists. What fun it was connecting the images that decorated their kites to hair styles - from wind-blown nonchalance to that "big hair" look inspired by buffalo! The class had recently learned about simile and metaphor in language arts classes; so we discussed what a visual metaphor was using the wind as an example - here the students came up with a variety of conceptions of how the wind looks.
Here, the long-standing, familiar and positive relationship the park has established with Kadoka teachers and school administration felt more like collaboration than outreach. In time, I predict the Park's educational outreach will continue to grow these positive relationsips and bridge the many gaps found in its outlying communities. I am so grateful for having been given this opportunity for a second time. Many thanks to the Badlands Natural History Association (BNHA) for its support of this educational outreach. http://www.badlandsnha.org . I found Gregory Gagnon's book, "Pine Ridge Reservation, Yesterday and Today", 2nd edition very helpful. It is available from the BNHA bookstore.
I began this overview of my residency by exploring the theme of "hope", looking at it from both sides of Central Avenue in Hot Springs National Park, AR. (The town name does indeed contain "National Park").
The city no longer hosts spring training for major league baseball. Gambling has moved out of the central business district. The recent economic downturn has dashed the hopes of some of the local business owners - so many storefronts say, "Closed".
Modern medicine including the widespread use of antibiotics caused all but one of the bathhouses to close. Only the Buckstaff has remained in continuous operation (since 1912). Even hopes for protecting the water have taken a hit from recent geological findings and the demands of modern times. Development and global warming have threatened the recharge area, the source of the hot springs.
Yet, we continue to value holistic health. By protecting over 60,000 historic objects, the park has the means to connect us to this universal theme of hope for health and healing. While in residence, I studied the quality and beauty of the architectural details and how they reinforced this theme through craftsmanship, myth, exclusivity, and association. I was awed by how they shone brightly despite the ravages of time and vagaries of the economy.
Using my medium, digital silk painting, I planned artwork that would link architectural detailing to the natural resources of the park, connecting the extrinsic to the intrinsic.
First, here's some architectural details and features of the park that I've organized into thematic ideas. Next, I'll show my work.
Individually Hand-set Tiles
Beauty and Functionality
In door hinges
In Coat Racks
In Bridges, the Grand Promenade, Retaining Walls etc.
Spiritual Cleansing, Symbolism and Myth
Come to the Waters
Fountain of Youth
Native American Wisdom
Luxury and Exclusivity - "You Deserve It"
Pastoral details that imply associations with European spas
A thermostat on a wall mural
In addition to branching out subject-matter-wise, I pushed myself to use new techniques and to increase my productivity. Here are the pieces I finished while I was in Hot Springs:
Fire Pinks on the Dead Chief Trail with Border Tile from a Hallway at the Fordyce. The park chose this piece for its permanent collection.
Magnolia Blooming Before Stained Glass Window, Fordyce
Turtle Talk - Warmed by the Sun, Bordered by Fordyce Radiators
"Ozark Rising" symbolizes its reincarnation as an arts and cultural center.
Hope for the Future
Holistic health as a theme has widespread appeal. Among the park's programming initiatives, I would like to mention three.
- Getting the remaining bathhouses restored and open through quality concessions that support the park's mission. One recent example is the Superior, a micro-brewery that serves locally-sourced and healthy food to accompany the beer and root beer it makes from hot spring water. Another, is the Lamar Bathhouse, selling lotions, soaps and other spa products made from the water.
- Community building. Restoration of the Ozark as a cultural center. It is operated by the Friends of Hot Springs National Park, provides a venue for community arts programming, and houses a gallery featuring the park's artist-in-residence collection.
- "Healthy Parks, Healthy People" is an initiative that started at the national level and is currently being implemented at Hot Springs. These programs are underway: 1) "Let's Move Outside" where you earn incentives for time spent hiking the trails. 2) Geocaching, 3) The re-development of the historic Oertel system of trails that build cardiovascular endurance.
I guess a long-standing tradition of taking care of folks has rubbed off on townsfolk and park staff alike. Compassion and kindness are everywhere. Thanks to Lisa G, Lisa A, Tom, Mike, Jeff, and Shane (and his wife, Diana). Thanks to "Friends", Rox, Charles, Bill, Lance, and Dennis. And to Park Superintendent, Josie Fernandez, who welcomed me as an honored guest. I promised her that I would serve as a goodwill ambassador for the park. I look to these pages as a place to start. Thanks for joining me on the trail.
Local ecosystems evolve naturally to insure water quality. A water system will suffer if land is developed without having a system for conserving it in place. Building roads and parking lots, cutting down forests, and re-routing water flow and drainage without regard to protecting water both locally and downstream can have wide-spread effects on its supply, quality, and other characteristics. Sustainable development and land protection are two strategies adopted in many communities. For example, in my own community, Legacy Land Conservancy is protecting land vital to our water supply via conservation easements and strategic partnerships. The water story is much more dramatic at Hot Springs and its telling may provoke further thought to something we often take for granted at home.
The mission of our National Parks is to protect and serve. National Parks protect what is unique to them. So, Hot Springs National Park protects its unique water. Water that is very old and doesn't stink. The minerals in it have been carbon-dated at 4,400 years old. (Imagine water falling in Arkansas when the pyramids were being built in Egypt.) It doesn't stink like other hot springs because the water is heated by a geothermal gradient and not by volcanic magma.
The former equivalent of the U.S. Dept. of the Interior realized the importance of the springs early, in 1832, when the area around the springs became our nation's first "Reserve". The water system appeared to be locked down until irony of ironies - truth be told through geology - its source had never been protected.
The rocks of the Ouachita Mountains were laid down undersea 356 million years ago. The Zigzag section of them surrounding Hot Springs show the extremes of deformation from the colliding South American and African tectonic plates. Pressures and temperatures were high enough to melt and deform the rock. It folded into faults, some layers appear to be crushed tubes. Rain and melt water soaked the ground and found its way more than 7,000 feet below the surface by following the cracks and fissures in the rock. On its long journey back up the water cools to 143 degrees F, gushing out of the hot springs to the tune of 650,000 gallons/day.
When considering the first paragraph above, about water quality and supply, one might ask, "Who cares about 4,000 year-old water?" Well, geologists found that the heated water in the springs travels to the surface through an action similar to a trap in a sink. Water soaking into the ground today pushes the old stuff through the system. The effects of drought and less water soaking the ground during extreme rainfall are immediate. During one six-month period of drought, the volume of water coming from the springs dropped from 700,000 gallons a day to 600,000 gallons a day. And the temperature dropped because the water came back up more slowly, allowing it more time to cool.
Indian Mountain stands a few miles away to the east. A foresting company owned a vast section of it and maintained a healthy forest there. All this time, the Hot Springs flowed continuously. Everyone thought the National Park System protected the land surrounding its water supply. Then, the foresting company sold off some of its land to a developer for constructing a mega church. During construction a neighboring farmer complained about a significant rise in the temperature of his well water. Geologists were called to investigate.
No one had realized that the water came from what geologists think today is a five-mile ribbon of ridge on Indian Mountain that had never been protected by the Park Service. The recharge area, the source of hot springs water, is now known to be at risk from developers and a proposed highway bypass that would greatly impact water flow and drainage. The Park service simply cannot afford to buy this land at today's prices. The community realizes how dependent it is on tourism. The Park is now partnering with conservation groups, working with the road commission, with developers to protect the mountain top, with local zoning boards to disallow water divergence, and with a conservancy to protect land through easements.
A far greater threat to the Hot Springs, however, is climate change. Shedding some light on how Hot Springs water supply is at risk through global warming may shed some light on what we see here at home. In Hot Springs National Park, AR, even in light of climate change, no effect on the overall amount of water is predicted. Ideally, the perfect weather scenario would be a series of light, ground-soaking rains. But with an increase in temperatures, there are fewer but heavier rain events with prolonged droughts in between. Native ground cover suffers and invasive plants creep in. Dry underbrush is vulnerable to fire. Invasive vines, like honeysuckle and this privet shrub brought in from Asia, take fire up into the forest canopy and lead to hotter, more intense, and devastating fires. Water runs off, taking top soils and plant matter that could have have directed the water downward.
When I reviewed this information with a friend, she remarked on how we all are part of a system that is running out of control. Depressing, huh? Gee, I almost made a painting of those pretty privet shrub blossoms. After I heard the climate change story, I decided not to celebrate it by painting it. I certainly won't buy one for my garden, one whose flowers smell so sweet. I can make myself feel better by telling these stories, turning my thermostat down, driving a little slower, riding my bike and walking more. Something's better than nothing, right?
They say there are two sides to every coin - so true at Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas.
After the Civil War, veterans took to the thermal waters of Hot Springs Reserve hoping to heal the injuries they sustained in the war. It was a place of last resort for many. Later, in the early 1900's, luxurious bath houses sprang up, offering an American version of the health spas popular in Europe. A 21-day treatment regimen was offered to wealthy visitors hoping to cure their ailments. (By now, the "dirty" soldiers had been shunted off to the newly built Army Navy Hospital at the end of Bathhouse Row. This hospital was a predecessor to the VA system hospitals.)
One wealthy gentleman, Samuel Fordyce, was told he had six months to live. A trip to the waters in Hot Springs was his last hope. After treatment, he lived another 42 years. His recovery lead him to develop the crème de la crème of bath houses, the Fordyce, which now serves as the park's visitor center and museum.
On the other side of the street, another story has played out. Today, amongst the fudge and t-shirt shops, there are reminders of where else hope has sprung in Hot Springs : hopes for a winning season, luck of the draw, and someone else to take care of your problems for you. During prohibition up to the late 50's a certain lawlessness prevailed. Here died the first ranger in the US to be shot and killed on the job. (His killer was subsequently acquitted).
Sometimes the two worlds intersect, particularly for the players in baseball teams that attended Spring training here. There were times when Babe Ruth needed to get a bender sweated out of him or to do strength training in the gym at one of the bathhouse. Al Capone and his "gangsta" cronies were careful not to cross the street and risk arrest from Feds just within spitting distance. At the Ohio Club, you could gamble and drink if you knew the password. (And they still serve a good hamburger today - you can take a shot at your cholesterol level after a massage at the Buckstaff or Quapaw).
During my residency at Hot Springs National Park, I had hopes too. In addition to mixing it up artistically, I fervently hoped not to get bit by one of the 6 venomous snakes in the area. I was lucky - I submersed myself in the waters and my art. I also logged 16 snake-free miles. Whoopi!
Silk painting, Triptych 90 x 48 inches, $15,000
Inspired by the changing hues throughout the day and the colors of the rock layers representing geologic time, I created this painting of the view from the north rim of the Grand Canyon.
Silk painting, 10 x 8 inches, Private collection
Lake Michigan brings dramatic weather to Sleeping Bear Dunes. Cottonwood trees eek out a fragile existence in the sandy soil.
Silk painting, 8 x 10 inches, Donated to Schoodic Institute of Acadia National Park
Lichen growing on the rocky shore of Jordan Pond reflect colored facets of the granite ledges lying below the surface on this clear and windless day.
Silk painting, 8 x 10 inches, Donation to Schoodic Institute of Acadia National Park
One of a series of silk paintings donated to the Schoodic Institute to fund scholarships for middle school students attending the SEA program of Acadia National Park
Silk painting (tiled), 31 x 17 inches, $1,600
Chacotay is one of the characters in "Star Trek Voyager". He wears a tattoo on his forehead that symbolizes "heal the earth". The shadows at Grand Canyon reminded me of his message. The tiling is meant to balance the brilliance of the colors and add contemporary and graphic elements to the work.