TIMELESS WORDS


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JONAH AND THE WHALE” STONEWARE SCULPTURE BY KAYTI SWEEETLAND RASMUSSEN

A word is intangible. We can’t buy it in a store, hold it in our arms, or lock it in a safe. Yet, it’s infinitely shareable–we can send it to thousands and still use it ourselves.

A word is a link to history, a bridge to the future. The word ‘wisdom’, for instance, is the same word that was once spoken by the author of Beowulf, those same letters appeared in Shakespeare’s plays, Emerson wrote with the same syllables, and the reporter in today’s newspaper makes use of the very same word.

We might well wonder what words Jonah uttered as he was being slowly introduced to the interior of the whale. I’m sure the Bible has him sending up a plea to the Almighty to save him from almost certain familiarity with the digestive process soon to come. But what did he really say?

“Words are the only things that last forever; they are more durable than the eternal hills. William Hazlitt, essayist (1778-1830)”

There are so-called “good” words and “bad” words, and these sometimes change with the vernacular of the generations. Many of the words our parents thought of as bad words are in common use today. Bill Bryson says “More than 350 million people in the world speak English and the rest, it sometimes seems, try to”. No other language has achieved such eminence, overcome such odds, inspired such majesty of thought, or caused such confusion as English.

New words come into existence every day, with the birth of new industries. Each profession and business has it’s own language peculiar to them. For instance the terms I might use as an artist would not be useful to a dog catcher or a Paramedic.

Scholars have divided the history of the English language into three periods. Old English (from the middle of the 5th to the beginning of the 12th century). Middle English (12th century through the 15th), and Modern English (16th century onwards.

To confuse things further, we have British English and American English, and we all fall under the designation as speaking the “Mother Tongue”. Erroneous words are sometimes introduced by respected users of the language who simply make a mistake. Shakespeare thought illustrious was the opposite of lustrous and for a time gave it a sense that wasn’t called for. More alarmingly, the poet Robert Browning caused considerable consternation by including the word twat in one of his poems, thinking it an innocent term. The work was Pippa Passes written in 1841 and now remembered for the line “God’s in His Heaven, all’s right with the world”. But it also contains this disconcerting passage: Then owls and bats, Cowls and twats, Monks and nuns in a cloister’s moods, Adjourn to the oak-stump pantry!

Browning had apparently come across the word twat —which meant precisely the same then as it does now—and somehow took it to mean a piece of headgear for the nuns. Though it caused much hilarity among generations of schoolboys, it was never called to Browning’s attention, because no one could think of a suitably delicate way to explain it to him.

VISION SEEKERS


Vision Seeker
“The Vision Seeker” Molded Plastic, leather, fur, feathers and beadwork by KSR

We are all vision seekers. We seek knowledge of the past; hope for the future. The Native American may have gone into a secret place to commune with the unknown. We go into the world of books.

My passion for books came into being at such an early age that I presumed that it was an intrinsic quality, much like having brown hair. There were no books to read at my grandmother’s house, save her Bible and church literature. When my father was not at sea, his reading matter was far more interesting to me. He was an inveterate reader of fast-paced detective stories, as well as complicated naval manuals.

On the occasions in which I lived with Auntie and Uncle Phil, I headed immediately into their small library, which held all the old books from their daughter’s childhood, as well as reading material of interest to themselves. A small sunroom led off from the library, which formed a secret hiding place for me to sit with a book or two. The two of them had two comfortable chairs in the middle of the living room with table and lamp in between, where they spent their evenings reading before retiring at eight p.m. sharp.

My favorite places in the world are book stores, both new and used. As an only child I lost myself in the life and times of other people and places. Since we moved frequently at the Navy’s behest, books were a familiar and loved escape. The direction to the local library always came shortly after we settled into the new place, and a library card of your own was a treasured possession.

The delight of used bookstores came much later. Sadly there aren’t a lot of them around anymore, and the large chain bookstores seem to have disappeared with the advent of e-books. Fortunately internet shopping and the Half Price Book chain give us access to the world of books both old and new. There is something quite special about rummaging about in an old book store. There is always the possibility of finding something rare, or of finding a long-searched for book you can’t live without.

Both San Francisco and Seattle once had large old bookstores which carried not only books but old maps and prints. Dr. Advice once felt terribly proud to bring me a complete set of Dickens as a birthday gift. My granddaughter, an inveterate reader, shares my love of books, and I know I can always find something in an old bookstore she will love as well as I do.

There are so many people reading on their Kindle or computer these days, and Amazon and other companies make it simple for them to download a book immediately. Personally I would miss the feel and the smell of a book, plus the pleasure of passing it along to someone else. Browsing through friend’s homes to see what they keep on their bookshelves becomes another way to know them. I have one friend who scours thrift stores for old cookbooks. My home bookshelves are crowded with all sorts of books and we have shelves in every room in the house including bookshelves in the garage. A friend of my daughter looked around once and asked shat we did with all of them. “We read them of course”, I said, and them read the very good ones over again.

Dr. Advice had a knee replacement a decade ago, and since he only read the newspaper sports news up until that time, I wondered what he would do with all the long hours long during his recovery. The TV offerings can’t keep people fascinated for very long. I suggested he take up reading, and now he is never without a book in his hand. Louie Lamour, the author of many Western style books, was self-educated, and it is said he always had a book in his pocket. I have a number of friends I know to be great readers, and a normal greeting would be “What are you reading?”

Part of the excitement of an old bookstore is the smell which seems to have been absorbed into the woodwork. A combination of old paper, ink, and probably a lot of dust. A friend once stood in the doorway of my living room and announced that she “loved the smell” of it. It is a room we seldom use, and has the usual wall overflowing bookshelves. I asked her if she thought it might be like the smell of an old bookstore, and she went through a “Eureka!” moment before saying “That’s it!”

DOWN TO THE SEA IN SHIPS


Portugues Fisherman 2
“PORTUGUESE FISHERMAN” Antonio Rodrigues by KSR

What brings us our endless fascination with the sea? Perhaps it is that we can never be quite sure what lies underneath that watery surface. Men have plowed the seas for countless millennia in all kinds of weather and in all kinds of boats. Vikings sailed to England, France and Russia for plunder, liked what they found and stayed to build new societies. The Danes made themselves at home in England, The Norwegians in France and the Swedes took a swipe at Russia. Native peoples fished and fought in small boats, large sailing ships traversed the navigable globe exploring new lands, and now we have gigantic floating hotels cruising the seven seas, (and sometimes getting stuck on reefs or clogging their plumbing). Last year alone Carnival Cruise line made unwelcome news a number of times. Maybe these monster ships are just too big. Man can’t seem to quench his wanderlust thirst while floating atop the water, and I must admit to doing it a great number of times, but I didn’t need a GPS to find my way to the dining room.

I have a long term fellowship with the sea, covering several generations of family association, most recently with my father, and my husband. When I was encouraged to find employment upon my high school graduation, I found it at the Matson Line for a whopping $95 per month. My Great-uncle and cousin held positions of some importance there and in a sad display of nepotism I was hired as a mailgirl. I didn’t see much of the sea in that position, but there were other perks, among which were introductions to some cute pursers at the end of a cruise while collecting their mail.

Lurline
SS LURLINE

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Fishermen of the world face other dangers helping to feed our overpopulated planet. In the mostly bygone days of cod fishing the Portuguese doryman lived a lonely life in his tiny boat along the Grand Banks separated from his home 3,000 miles away for six months out of the year. He left the mothership in his little dory and fought currents, FOG, freezing cold and rough seas while setting his gear with rudimentary equipment. If he became lost and drifted away, he was mostly on his own, usually not speaking another language if he should be rescued by someone other than his own people. Though he had a compass, it would have been relatively useless that close to the North Pole. As the saying goes, “He was up a creek without a paddle”. The 1960’s saw the end of the great cod fishing era. Fortunately for we fish and chip lovers, there is still enough codfish for a few more years.

doryman
Small Dory

large fighing boat
Mothership

HOME IS THE SAILOR

Home is the sailor, home from sea;
Her far-borne canvas furled
The ship pours shining on the quay
The plunder of the world.

Home is the hunter from the hill.
Fast in the boundless snare
All flesh lies taken at his will
And every fowl of air.

‘Tis evening on the moorland free,
The starlit wave is still;
Home is the sailor from the sea,
The hunter from the hill.

A.E. Houseman

AT HOME IN THE LITTLE DIOMEDES


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“Inuit Mother and Baby” watercolor by kayti sweetland Rasmussen

Returning from a trip to Nome, Alaska some years ago, Dr. Advice brought back two black and white photographs which had been taken in 1913; one of a handsome young man bundled into his furs, and another of his wife, lovingly cuddling her baby in the hood of her fur parka. They were of an Inuit family living in the Little Diomedes, a group of islands off the Seward Peninsula in Alaska. These Little Diomedes Inuit are actually Danish citizens, and speak not only English, but Danish, French, Russian and various other languages. I found them so appealing that I did sculptures and paintings of both of them.
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Sitting in our sunny garden this morning with a latte and watching a small hummingbird perform an acrobatic flip on the feeder, I couldn’t help but feel all warm and fuzzy about living here in this moderate Mediterranean-type climate. The snow has never to my knowledge, buried this house, nor prevented me from walking to a grocery store if I could.

Yet for some reason, I also thought of the large group of people who live far north in the Arctic, and who somehow live just as satisfying a life; marrying, raising a family and who have repeated this cycle for a millennium.

Nevertheless, I’m not trading places. I like it just fine right here, and when our excuse for winter weather arrives, I will turn the furnace up a notch and make another latte while I challenge Dr. Advice to another game of gin rummy.

ARE YOU LISTENING?


It’s fairly easy to tell when someone is actually listening to you. Body language is usually a dead give-away. For instance, I can always tell when Dr. Advice is not listening to me because he has a glazed look on his face, and his body language and spoken words don’t agree. My habit on those times is to simply say in a continuing conversational manner “I need to go wash the cat!”. It usually snaps him to attention. Besides we haven’t owned a cat for nearly 40 years.

When speaking to a group of children or simply the one child who needs to clean his/her room, a barely inaudible grunt while he/she is absorbed in a TV program or video game, is a sure sign that your message did not get through. It is my understanding that Bill Gates as a child answered his mother’s call to dinner from his downstairs room by saying “I’m busy”. But then, chances are, you did not give birth to another computer genius, and as it turned out, he really was busy.

Speakers are aware of body language, referred to as “audience awareness”, or relating to a group. As you prattle on about your favorite subject, and see that the audience is sitting back in their seats with their chins down and arms crossed on their chest, you might get a hunch that your delivery is not going well, or that half the audience is asleep. If what you are speaking about is contained in a slide show of “What I Did On My Summer Vacation”, and you hear snores rumbling through the darkened room, you blew it.
Ear
Women are far more perceptive than men, which means being able to spot the contradictions between someone’s words and their body language. Female intuition is evident in women who have raised children. For instance, I long ago convinced my children and grandchildren that mothers really did have “eyes in the back of their heads”. How else to explain the sudden change of plans which accurately foiled any after-school activity they may have planned? It is a parental challenge at which mothers somehow can do intuitively.

It is a proven fact that women have far greater capacity for communicating and evaluating people than men do. Women have between fourteen and sixteen areas of the brain to evaluate others’ behavior versus a man’s four to six areas. This may explain how a woman can attend a dinner party and rapidly work out the state of relationships of other couples at the party—who’s had an argument, who likes who, and so on.

The female brain is organized for multitracking—the average woman can juggle between two and four unrelated topics at the same time. She can watch a TV program while talking on the telephone plus listen to a second conversation behind her, while drinking a cup of coffee. She can talk about several unrelated topics in the one conversation and use five vocal tones to change the subject or emphasize points. Unfortunately most men can only identify three. As a result, men often lose the plot when women are trying to communicate with them.

Then there is the “Fast Talker”, frequently a man, who has so much to say in a short time, and covers so many divergent subjects, that his spoken words pour out and flow like a spring thaw. These men are frequently lawyers or politicians. Are you listening Dr. Advice?

NOTABLE AND QUOTABLE


I guess this is where I’m supposed to fall in line and do what every other sports writer is doing. I’m supposed to swear I won’t ever write the words “Washington Redskins” anymore because it’s racist and offensive and a slap in the face to all Native Americans who ever lived. Maybe it is.

I just don’t quite know how to tell my father-in-law, a Blackfeet Indian. He owns a steak restaurant on the reservation near Browning, Montana. He has a hard time seeing the slap-in-the-face part.

“The whole issue is so silly to me,” says Bob Burns, my wife’s father and a bundle holder in the Blackfeet tribe. “The name just doesn’t bother me much. It’s an issue that shouldn’t be an issue, not with all the problems we’ve got in this country.”

And I definitely don’t know how I’ll tell the athletes at Wellpinit (Wash.) High School–the student body is 91.2 percent Native American–that the “Redskins” name they wear proudly across their chests is insulting them. Because they have no idea.

“I’ve talked to our students, our parents and our community about this and nobody finds any offense at all in it,” says Tim Ames, the superintendent of Willpinit schools. “Redskins is an honorable name we wear with pride….In fact, I’d like to see somebody come up here and try to change it.”

Boy, you try to help some people….

From Rick Reilly’s commentary for ESPN, Sept. 18
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As an aside to this quote, our good friend Emmett Oliver, a member of the Quinault tribe, was an outstanding footbal player throughout his high school and college days at Redlands University. Some years ago, when some people began to feel antsy about calling Native Americans “Indians” or referring to them as “Redskins”, I asked Emmett his feelings on the subject. He said he had always fell special when during his football days, people would refer to him as an “Indian”, because after all, he WAS an Indian.

Here at Stanford, the team was known for many years as the “Stanford Indians”, and the cheerleaders, the band, bumperstickers, and other items people used to show their team support, built upon the Indian motif.

Someone in their infinite wisdom, changed the name to the “Stanford Cardinal”. Not “Cardinals” the bird, but the color crimson red. The mascot is a tree. The tree parades around the field to rally the spirits of the crowd.

I’m sorry, but I think the whole thing is insulting to the California Redwood tree.

PLEASE DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO


Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is

“Does Anybody Really Know What Time It is?” original sculpture & installation by KSR

In case you haven’t noticed, the world is changing around us, and doing so as we speak. A new faster must-have gadget comes on the market hourly. I’m sick of having to learn something new every week or so.

We have a new 55 inch TV in the family room which replaced a perfectly good 50″ one. The small TV in the kitchen gave up the ghost, so we went to the store to replace it, but came home with two new TV’s. Dr. Advice is ecstatic. The big one does things we don’t even need. It has a button that says “Smart” with a picture of a little house. It connects with an HD receiver, and the DVI to the HDMI connection. It connects to your mobile phone. You can even have a Magic Remote control. I don’t know what that is. We have 4-5 remote controls we can never find when needed now. They control Blu-Ray, VHS, surround sound, receiver, and something else I can’t remember. And the ironic thing about it that we don’t really watch TV! We watch PBS and movies. We get all the important stuff from the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and the lousy local rag. We suffer from information overload. I know this sounds dinosaurish, but one of the pluses of maturity is that your own collection of grey cells contains more than you will ever use in the way of information. The best thing about all of this is that none of it talks to you.

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Everyone around me seems to have the latest edition of computer, Smartphones, or whatever, and many of them talk to you. I don’t want a machine telling me what to do. My dear son-in-law was my guru and go-to guy for whatever was new in the tech world. I didn’t need a talking cellphone or computer. My current cell phone calls in and calls out. That’s all I need it to do. Two of our grandchildren, aware of his store of knowledge had a secret saying whenever things could or might go wrong, “WWUDD?” Which meant: “What would uncle Dick do?”

He was in on the birth of modern technology forty plus years ago, and knew what made them all tick inside and out. Everyone over the age of 50 needs to keep friends at least 20 years younger. Better yet, if you get stuck, call a seven year old. Several nights ago a group of intelligent 40-60 year olds, had trouble removing something from the screen of an iPhone. Our seven year old great-granddaughter took it and after one touch of her finger, she calmly handed it back and said “There ya go.” As she turned away she muttered “I can’t believe you didn’t know how to do that!” One of life’s embarrassing moments.

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Several years ago, grocery stores began offering the option of “Self-Serve” stations, so that you can slip your card in and check out your own groceries by clicking the appropriate space on the lighted screen. If you make a mistake, it throws a fit and tells you to call for help. Once that’s done, you place the already checked items on a lower platform and continue. If you place anything, even a paper bag on the platform too the machine yells loudly to get it OFF! When through checking, you click “Finish and Pay”. It refuses to move until you tell them if you brought your own bag. After you’re through it yells “Please remove your groceries!” in a frantic voice. Heck, I haven’t even had time to put my wallet back in my purse.

The annoying voice on my GPS when we take a direction she didn’t tell us to, disgustedly tells us that she is “Relocating!” Sometimes we change directions just to tick her off.

All of which says “please don’t tell me what to do”! I like to make my own mistakes and discoveries thank you. Better yet, try making things simpler like the old “on-off” button our radios used to have, and we won’t need an instruction manual for every new thing you invent each week.

HOW THEY SEE THINGS–THE OUTSIDERS


bill traylor_0003

bill traylor_0001

Bill Traylor’s talent surfaced suddenly in 1939 when he was eighty-five years old and had ten more years to live. By then he had left the plantation in Southern Alabama where he had been born a slave in 1854.

After Emancipation, he scratched out a living as a sharecropper before moving to Montgomery, the state capitol where he slept on a pallet in the back of a funeral home and spent his days watching the world pass before his eyes on Monroe Street, the center of the city’s black district.

One day he picked up a pencil stub and began to draw what he saw and what he remembered. He ultimately produced hundreds of drawings and paintings. He was a born storyteller who pushed images of the life around him toward abstraction with no loss of vitality.

His work exists because of Charles Shannon a young white artist and admirer who watched him drawing on the street. He began visiting him every day and while hearing stories about Traylor’s life, he watched him recreating scenes still vivid in his mind as well as that of passing strangers. Shannon brought him art supplies, and buying some and taking others for safekeeping he saved the memories of a long life.

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“Outsider” art encompasses all sorts of art which lies outside the boundaries of official culture, otherwise thought of as those on the outside of the established art scene. Typically, though not always, an outside artist doesn’t move in the mainstream of the established art world. The sculptor Beatrice Woods might have been thought of as an outside artist, and surely her lover, the artist Marcel Duchamp, would have been seen as part of the movement (if the term had been around then).

See my blog NAUGHTY LADY for more about Beatrice Wood. She wrote a book called “I Shock Myself”. I’m not sure which was shocking to her, her art or her sex life! Her favorite reply when asked to what she attributed her old age (103) was “I like young men and a piece of chocolate every day.” Either way, she was a grand old lady.

Beatrice fell in love with the French artist Marcel Duchamp when she went to Paris as a young woman first starting out in the art world. She quickly formed relationships with Duchamp and his friend Henri-Pierre Roche, two of the avante-gard artists of the time.

Duchamp bounced around trying any number of art styles, never really settling on any one type. He liked to think of himself as a Dadaist or conceptual artist, or anything which challenged the conventional thought abut artistic processes.

In 1917 he submitted an upside-down urinal to the Society of Independent Artists show. It was titled “The Fountain” and signed “R. mutt”. It was rejected even though the rules clearly stated that all works would be accepted if the fee were paid. Instead it became even more famous than it would otherwise have been when he had his friend the photographer Man Ray photograph it, and then take it to New York where it was celebrated as a huge joke by the reigning artists of the day. Clearly Duchamp would qualify as an “outside” artist even though he had been classical trained.

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The na├»ve art of Grandma Moses, another artist with latent talent, falls into the category as well as some of the following type of art. These paintings by Henry Taylor, a Los Angeles artist, and some of the art we classify as folk art are by those considered “outsider” artists.

Henry Taylor
Painting by Henry Taylor

Banksy, a pseudonymous of an England-based graffiti artist, political activist, film director and painter is also considered an outsider artist. His satirical stenciled street art and subversive epigrams combine dark humor with graffiti. Banksy’s work can be seen on streets, bridges, and walls in cities throughout the world. The son of a photocopier technician, he trained as a butcher in Bristol, but became involved in graffiti during the great Bristol aerosol boom of the late 1980’s.

Banksy does not sell photos of street graffiti directly himself, however, art auctioneers have been known to attempt to sell his street art on location and leave the problem of its removal in the hands of the winning bidder.

Banksy

THE CRACK OF THE BAT


Balk
“Balk” original watercolor by kayti sweetland Rasmussen”

I like baseball. My father was a big fan and when he was home and there was a game, any game, on the radio, we listened and cheered at the appropriate times. He went to the ballpark whenever he had a chance.

He put a baseball bat in my small hands when I was about eight years old, and shook his head in disgust whenever I missed the ball, which was often. Dr. Advice and I bought two of our grandsons small plastic bats and were entertained on many sunny afternoons watching them learn to play the game. They were pretty decent players by the time they were on their high school teams. Another grandson who lives in the Northwest, did not benefit from our coaching, yet he was a superior player of the game.

A pitcher can commit a number of illegal motions or actions that constitute a balk. In most cases it involves a pitcher pretending to pitch when he has no intention of doing so. If the umpire calls it a balk, each runner takes another base and the batter remains at bat. It could be dangerous indeed depending on how many were on bases. The painting above was taken from an article in the newspaper after a “balk” was called.

I loved the expressions on the faces of the catcher on the left, and the pitcher on the right. Righteous disbelief at its best! Meanwhile, the large bulk of the umpire stands unperturbed and unyielding in the middle, with just the top of the manager’s head peeking out from behind. Unfortunately, I did not write down the players names in my records, but the manager was Tony La Russa, who has recently been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and who managed the Oakland Athletics from about 1986 to 1995. But the painting is proof that the cardinal rule of baseball is ‘never argue with the umpire’

INNER FIRE


Alan Hauser
hauser 3 I first saw Allan Hauser’s art when I went to Santa Fe, New Mexico for the first time in 1966. I saw then that what I did and what I was teaching was only a first step toward the sculpture I wanted to make. Allan’s iconic style, avoiding unnecessary iconography, filled me with a great sense of peace. His Native American mothers holding their children were not just literal pictures of people, but solid mass forms filled with life which invited you to touch them. I had been working for years, but for the first time, I realized that everything is simply “forms” with a certain solidity, not just sculpture. Our eye does not take in everything which is there; in painting a tree we don’t paint each leaf, or each hair on a head, rather we try to convey the feeling of the entire form. So what Allan taught me throughout that summer, was how to “feel” a sculpture, and how to convey that feeling in the finished piece.

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Born in Oklahoma in 1914, Allan Hauser was the first member of his family from the Warm Springs Chiricahua Apache to be born outside captivity since Geronimo’s 1886 surrender after the tribe’s imprisonment by the United States. His father, Sam Haozous, was the grand-nephew of Geronimo, and served as his translator after the release.

Allan went to study at the Santa Fe Indian School in 1934, where he first formed his distinctive style in both painting and sculpture. It was there he met and married his wife Anna Maria Gallegos, and they were married for fifty-five years. They moved to Los Angeles in the second World War and he worked at the shipyards there. Through friends at the Pasadena Art Institute, he became familiar with the art of Jean Arp, Constantin Brancusi, and Henry Moore, as well as Barbara Hepworth, from whom he learned the importance of open spaces within the sculpture. When Allan explained Hepworth’s monumental pieces to me, he stressed the importance of letting your mind supply what was missing in the void.

In my own study of Japanese art and floral arranging, that “absence of the unimportant” gave meaning to the piece which would not have been there with too much explanation. In the case of floral arrangements, it would be too many flowers.

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Allan Joined the faculty at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe in 1962. It was there I met him in the summer of 1966, when I went with my Isleta-Laguna friend Georgia Abeita Oliver. He was a soft-spoken and generous man who graciously gave his knowledge and advice to a visiting stranger and fellow art teacher. There was no indication that this self-effacing man was one of the most renowned Native American artists in the 20th century.

When he died at the age of 80, he left behind thousands of paintings and drawings as well as his amazing public sculptures as a visual lexicon.

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In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” Albert Schweitzer

Apache

“Apache Man” white carrara marble Allan Hauser