ANIMAL VILLAGE: B L INDS POT S (6’ x 8’), hand-gathered and ground pigments from oregon, nevada and utah, plus gold leaf, mined pigments (nicosia green, colorado pink pipe clay, and italian yellow earth) and petrochemical pigments (leaf green, rose pink, seafoam blue) on reclaimed plywood.
I found myself in a place in the Oregon desert with houses of hollowed out boulders, rocks that had somehow been dissolved on the inside so that they looked like rounded houses with entrances. Not just one or two houses, but many, all sizes. Some were perfect for human people, and showed what I thought might be signs of cook fires on their blackened ceilings. Others were small, for, I thought, other animal people, not humans. Some were tiny with just a coin-sized hole for a door.
I looked this place up later, and my heart jumped when I found an answer: a single reference to the place being known as Animal Village by the Northern Paiute people, who lived around there for thousands of years before white settlers. Animal Village because, the reference said, “of the abundance of plant and animal life that is found there.” But I thought, no, it’s because of the village that’s there. The Village of the Animals.
I went back and made sketches of the houses. Animal Village. Animal Village! I chanted as I drew. I went home and started grinding paint, colors I had been gathering for years but had been too afraid to use much. Eight or nine colors, from eight or nine different places in the desert: three greens, purple, pinkish-red, red ochre, yellow ochre, pale pink. Orange. When the painting was done I sat and looked at it. Animal Village? Really?
So I called the Warm Springs Museum in Madras. I asked, does anyone know about Animal Village? Four people came on the phone. Finally, I spoke to Dallas Winnishut. He said, call Wilson Wewa Jr. at the senior center. He’s a Northern Paiute elder and the place you’re asking about is their place.
Yes, said Wilson Wewa Jr. when I called. That whole place there is Animal Village. That’s what we call it, because that’s where the animal people lived in the time before the human people. The bighorn sheep, and the muskrat, and the deer and the bear and the beaver — they all lived there. You can see Grandmother Bighorn Sheep with her rabbit skin blanket up on the ridge if you look, and lots of other animal people.
I said, do you know about any hollowed-out rocks? That look like houses? Well, there’s one there when you go up the main trail, he said. A big boulder with a hole in it. I said, well, I’m thinking on the other side of the river, down the trail, where there are lots of hollowed-out boulders that look like houses. Yes, he said. Those are the animal people’s houses. That’s their village.
I didn’t ask any more questions about that. He told me I could read more about it in his new book, Legends of the Northern Paiute. I could get it on Amazon if I wanted. I asked him, how do you feel about a descendant of white settlers gathering pigments and using them? He told me, if it feels right, then it’s right. If it feels wrong, then it’s wrong. You listen to how it feels. I gather lots of different pigments — yellow and purple and white and red. I go out there in the east and gather a special white pigment. But then there’s a mine out there nearby that mines that pigment and that’s just wrong.
I asked, do you make paintings with your pigments? He said, no, I use them for ceremony. I don’t know about painting. I don’t know about that.
This is a painting of Animal Village made from paint gathered near Animal Village and far from it, but in connected desert. The overlaid color spots are different ways of rendering the colors of the land, and also a language for different ways of valuing it: as a potential source of gold, or other colored pigments to mine, or as a container for an imagined decorative landscape constructed with petrochemical pigments.
After painting the large ANIMAL VILLAGE: B LINDS POT S, I made four small studies of the image, using pigments with different sources for each. Clockwise, the materials are as follows: 1. hand-gathered and ground pigments, 2. petrochemical pigments. 3. plant pigments plus egyptian blue, made from crushed blue glass, 4. mined mineral pigments.