Wednesday, August 6, 2014

From a Different Perspective

The other day, I had the pleasure of exchanging several e-mails with Dan W. Green, a recntly retired attorney who is now a docent for the Oceano Dunes District of California State Parks.  Dan wrote to tell me that he was planning to use a painting of mine, Meeting the Chumash, with his visitor groups.  This was one of the twelve paintings I did some years ago for the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail.  The trail runs from southern Arizona to San Francisco, California, following the route of the 1775-1776 Spanish expedition that brought families of settlers and recruits for the new presidio that was going to be established near the Golden Gate.

Dan knew the painting from the cover of Dr. Lynn H. Gamble’s book, The Chumash World at European Contact (University of California Press, 2008).

 I was pleased to hear that the illustration was finding a new audience.  Dan asked me about the background to the painting, to which I replied,

The painting depicts a single incident, but there were several encounters like this between the Chumash* and Anza Expedition in the Santa Barbara region.  At the village of La Laguna, the party obtained fresh fish, "because just then a launch which had been fishing arrived at the shore and brought several very good fish of different kinds and of different colors and shapes, which I did not recognize.  On this, as on other occasions, Anza negotiated directly with the Native Californians.”  

Dan then asked a question that gave me pause, not because I didn’t know the answer, but it was quite unexpected.  “In the images, are you depicting a beaver skin cape? Or, is it an otter skin cape?”  Dan was referring to the figure holding up the fish at the rear of the tomol (the Chumash canoe made of redwood planks).  He wanted to know this because it seems that, among naturalists and natural history enthusiasts in California, there is a controversy about whether or not the American beaver (Castor canadensis) lived in the Santa Barbara region at the time when the Spanish first explored there, in 1769.

Who knew?  As an historical illustrator, I always think in terms of authentic recreations of cultural worlds, but Dan, looking at the same subject, thought first about the natural history.  I was able to tell Dan that, in fact, the cape was of grizzly bear skin, and cite my source (Travis Hudson and Thomas C. Blackburn, The Material Culture of the Chumash Interaction Sphere, v. 3, "Clothing, Ornamentation and Grooming." Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, 1985, pp. 43-45, 62).  But I learned something from this exchange in which each of us came at the same story with equal seriousness, but from somewhat different directions.  For the next assignment like this, I’ll definitely consult a naturalist.

*A Native California tribe that lived in vicinity of present-day Santa Barbara, California. 

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