Sometimes you get them and sometimes you don't...

The above shot of the moon was from just after 2AM following a clear shot at midnight. For those of you who follow my work you know by now I'm obsessed with the moon. Partly that it is central to our mythology as Puget Sound Salish people known as Dakwibalth or in English translations the 'transformer' or 'changer'. Even so had I not been born into my culture I have a feeling that I'd have an affinity for the moon but may not be getting up at odd hours of the night to document it by camera, who knows.

For months I had planned to shoot this next blood moon phase and had looked up a lens rental and held that aside but tonight, it didn't turn out as hoped vs the last blood moon shoot. I had to make a tough call for this because renting an 800mm lens runs about $400 and with the weather being as unpredictable from hour to hour I just couldn't swing it. That said I still got outta bed at midnight, then 2am then 3:30 and again at 4:30AM. As in the days of my son being a baby except I willingly did this without cries of a baby somehow. Anyway, as I stated, it didn't work out as planned but in a good way I think. After months of prep and fingers crossed making that decision mid week was tough to pass on the lens.

Driving home this evening around 8ish I saw a break in the clouds and could see the moon clearly from the freeway in south Tacoma. It went off and on but overall it had good clearing well into the morning. I took photos on the tripod with the canon using my 70-200mm on a solid tripod and pan head. I opted for this set up over my 300mm partly for focus control and lens speed if the clouds rolled thru I'd have quicker responsiveness with the 70-200 ISM II set up.

All seemed great to the hour of 4AM when I was starting to hate myself. Man oh man, how could I let this happen. It's Spring coming along here and I missed this opportunity because the clearing came. I did the best I could shooting in RAW files, using my tripod taking as many shots with two tiers of exposures for sake of flexibility to choose from. At 4:30AM I took one more shot and went back inside guestimating the blood moon would reveal in that next 15-20 minutes. Grabbing winks of rest with one hand on my puppy and another on the arm rest of the couch I pulled myself up to go out again with camera in hand. From nowhere all the clouds rolled in and by eye I could barely make out a sliver of the moon. I was both happy and devastated. On one hand I had the comfort of knowing my decision opting out of the long lens expense was justified, on the other I was missing the blood moon at the point of it's pinnacle. I come back inside to write and accept that in life sometimes you get them and sometimes you don't.

It's moments like these in life that reveal things about ourselves. In me I see my commitment to admire something in so many ways and share that with the world when it permits. And yet a lesson to me that despite the loss this time when the next phase comes I know I will be there like a surfer waiting on a wave after just having crashed in a swell. It is the resilience and desire to capture the moment I suppose. Ok, time to sleep now...


A dream come true

Long ago when I was a boy I would drive past Seattle from Tacoma going up to see my great grandfather who I later inherited my Indian name from with my grandparents. We'd often stop into downtown and see the pole in Pioneer square or go to Ivars Salmon house. I had always thought the images and poles were from my Native heritage. Little did I know a generation or two before it was the colonizing settlers who transplanted those poles and that culture from Alaska yet it's prominance and influence remain for the world to see.

Once I discoverd this as a young man I set out on a mission to understand what I could about my heritage to remedy this tragedy in my mind. I dedicated my life to working on understanding the Coast Salish heritage from which I come. This is not to say I didn't have some understanding of this from my family. I grew up going to ceremony and understood our protocols but it was the aspect of art and the public that troubled me. It was the public image or lack thereof that hit me. At that time I was working as a teachers assistant in the language and culture department in Chief Leschi schools. There I witnessed so many children like myself growing up amidst other Native children who identified with their roots in pow wow dancing or Northwest Coast Native song and dance accompanied by mask and regailia. A long friend of mine said to me 'we are Coast Salish and we are stuck between Tipis and totem poles, our identity is far from being recognized even by our own people anymore. It's not 'romantic' or 'glamorous' enough for the attention of others".

That was said twenty years ago and remained a thorn in my side. It was then I set out to paint as many as 50+ drums at that school for the kids who didn't have anything to show for their Salish roots. I delved deep into our stories and mythology to make paintings and prints of the subject matter. All the while wanting some form of recognition from the outside world that our culture had not been overthrown for good.

In time I started to show my work in galleries and museums and other artists have come into the picture as well. But what stirkes me today as monumental is that I was awarded the Tribal Seattle Waterfront commission. It involves a great deal of reimagining the seattle waterfront and recognizing the Coast Salish people for which the city was named after. 

I wouldn't have foreseen this coming if you had asked me but it is her and it is now. I hope to make the most of this opportunity and showcase that Coast Salish culture is alive and well. That it is deserving of the land on which it comes from and that it will as all art does, adapt to the world around it and will continue to thrive as long as the people exist in it's region.

As Chief Sealth once said long when people believe our people have vanished we will be among you... something along that, I'm paraphrasing of course but the gist is, my art and others of Coast Salish heritage are making public works that will continue to be standing long after we have gone and there is something to say for that. Today, I am overjoyed with the task ahead of me.


What is your "Butch's Watch"?

I was asked once about a year ago by an art patron at a gala event "what's your 'Butch's watch'"? This caught my attention, a Pulp Fiction reference in a fine arts event conversation? I never really considered what that meant before. It took a great time of thought. As much as I love my computer and several hard drives they don't mean much of a hand down heirloom. Nor do any of the watches I own. I had inherited a leather briefcase and a doctor bag from my great grandfather each of which suffered water damage over the years and would not likely make it to my son and even so, how do these decisions begin? Puzzled I told the patron I didn't know but I thanked them for their interesting question and it remained with me for weeks in the back of my head.

After much thought I concluded my 'watch'. It wasn't a watch, it wasn't a bag but a pencil. Yes a pencil. See, about two weeks before I had a conversation with my son in my studio while I was sketching out a design for a project. I was changing the pencils and pens I used and he had been very observant. He noted that each time I signed a print I had used a blue pen. I told him it was a mechanical pencil. He wasn't familiar so I showed him what kind of mechanical pencils I had over the years and it dawned on me where this came from. It was like a euphoric feeling from the film, Inception, an epiphany. 

You see, as a child I spent much time with my grandfather who entertained me by sketching and watching nature shows, talking about the cultures of the world. I spent much time with him in his shop sorting part and repairing items we would find on Sunday outings. He seemed to have an interest in drafting (of no coincidence I had pursued in college). On a trip to Seattle at the UW bookstore going to visit my aunt with him he browsed over the mechanical pencils in the cases amongst the vellum and t-rulers. I looked to one side of the store what seemed endless, a wall of art papers I was immersed and captive to this place. He asked what I thought about the pencils and explained the purpose of the different leads and all the planning that went into drafting.

"It doesn't mean you can't use this for sketching if you like, that's what most 9mm are used for but most work comes from the 5mm" he said. "ok, if that's the best all purpose one, then sure" I picked out a Niji 500, blue 5mm reading made in Japan on the side. I walked to the counter with him and it's only long after being asked this question what object means so much to you to pass down that I uncovered this memory.

One might wonder why it's not an adze or the doctor bag I have to give over, well here is where I explain. This moment with my son, sitting at my desk where he asked "is that something you would give to me someday?" and to my curiosity I asked why he was interested "well, it's something important to you and I know it. I love to draw and I know it's important to you." I then and there told him where it came from and how and why it was important to me. He smiled and said how he thought that was so cool and went on to ask why we'd ever need pencils if we had these and lead and I told him I asked my grandpa the same thing.

I write this post up late as usual or 'early' I should say, because after much stress of not knowing where that object was I found it tonight. I had been looking for a cable and desperately grabbed at a kleenex size box. I was taking out one item at a time trying to keep patience and then my son saw me light up in silence and perhaps react in slow motion. There it was, he came to my side to see and he had the biggest smile. "that's it! Dad, that's it right?!" to reply I turned to him and said "yes, son that's it and someday it will be yours".

How trivial it is what objects mean to us. One would imagine I have a mask in our family but we are not mask people, we do not have ownership of Skwai kwe. Nor have I inherited carving tools from my grandfathers beyond my great uncle. The tools of our traditional craft are not everyday and I don't plan to impose my chosen occupation on my son because his life belongs to him. The world changes in many ways but a writing instrument is universal and necessary.

This moment I see in piles of boxes what I knew was important all along. My son, his well being and what I can pass on to him. And then after all that he said, "dad I really like your long shot 70-200mm canon lens, can I have that too"? to be continued...


The fight of flight

It's a hard thing to move and it's an even harder thing to give up the comforts of what you make a home. Sometimes we fly high to feel the sun and sometimes we fly low to be undetected. Today we are in transition and transition is hard and I'm not gonna lie. I leave behind a place I knew brief but one that was hard to leave. I have come back home to work as I have before and in any move this means adjustments of which there will be many. I left a good part of who I was behind and that said I want so much for that to mean something.

I'm crossing my fingers for great things grateful for all I've received in this life. I think so often to my family and the people I have come to know as friends. I think a great deal of the symbolism when I see hawks perched over the freeway lamps looking over the freeway. So majestic, unapologetic. They owe the world no explanation to their adaption of perch. The world for our Native people has not been unchanged and therfore nor has our way of life. I always come back to this confronted romantisicm. One that Native people should remain in the time they were 'discovered' but not allowed to change as all things do. I share a revalation I had from the best friend I will ever know in discovering that 'it's fear that keeps us from accepting many things' but even so we are allowed as adults a time out. One to grace ourselves with downtime and recollect ourselves. I'm hoping in this downtime I will keep moving forward.


The Why behind Designing Sealth's Hawk

I will start this entry by stating, this design is an original design based on the style of work I create in which is Coast Salish style indigenous to the Tacoma - Seattle area in Washington state. I began my journey as an artist under a misconception that the totem poles and formline art in the urban areas was something of my heritage only to discover several different origins. The Seahawks logo for example was inspired by a mask the belonged to the Kwakwaka’wakw people of Canada. It is much like the totem pole of Pioneer square that also came from elsewhere. However, those images have long swayed the ideas of many people for decades, myself included on what Native art is in the Seattle area.

photo compilation from Burke Museum exhibit Here & Now

It has long been my goal to explore the art of my heritage and be part of a bigger picture, one that includes the exploration of new ideas. When most people think of Native art they think of red and black designs, Indians on horseback hunting buffalo or a totem pole at the waterfront. The Coast Salish of which Seattle is named after Chief Sealth have been overlooked for many years. Knowing this I wanted to create something that would pay respect to the leader in a style of art that comes from a descendant of his nation.

I see today so often things that are 'Native Inspired' but few things Native designed. In doing the work I do and reaching out to friends and colleagues in the same practice I hope to help make that a change for a new generation. Rather than create from outside of the culture I am creating from within it.