Maidu Echoes from the American River

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Anita Blue Heron Maidu Echoes from the American River. By Gayle Anita.
Maidu Echoes from the American River. By Gayle Anita. Click to enlarge

Traces of an indigenous culture are scattered throughout the remains of the California Gold Rush. From the village site Shiba in Fair Oaks to Yolimhu in Folsom, great bedrock mortars echo the First People.

Deep, cylindrical depressions, revealed only by an unusual low waterline, whisper stories of a civilization so ancient few remnants of its vitality are ever seen or understood. Layered upon these Paleocene fragments of time, the relatives of that heroic migration found a home on the banks of the American River. They named their river Notomom, which means east waters. Their village, surrounded by a beautiful riparian forest of oaks and savannah, was called Shiba. Further upstream, the clear blue waters tumbled over mighty rock formations that lined a flat, shaded by the prolific Gray Pine. Today Yolimhu’s impressive bedrock mortars can be seen, some containing grinding holes of enormous depth.

Moonrise at Shiba. By Gayle Anita
Moonrise at Shiba. By Gayle Anita

It was the mysteries of Shiba and Yolimhu that whispered to the artist Gayle Anita and compelled her to study and paint these nature areas of the American River. The native plants and animals that inhabit what once was the domain of a wild mountain-fed river are her beloved subjects. Evidence of the last indigenous people, the Nisenan Maidu, remains in an ever evolving landscape. Their descendants walk among us today.

Because of the modern need to devour open spaces, Anita is grateful for the few secured areas that are stable enough to support wildlife and native plants. Her paintings and mosaics illustrate her passion for the area which reveals its secrets to her. She says, “Through art I can keep the things I see close to my heart. There are places along and near the river that are sacred. You can feel them. Memories are in the rocks, the ‘wild’ is in our blood and you can hear the trees breathing… No wonder I love this place!”

Song of the Flicker. By Gayle Anita
Song of the Flicker. By Gayle Anita

Gayle Anita’s life journey led to the arts. Music, art, and literature were ingrained through four generations of her family. Her first job after graduating high school was as the window designer for the posh Sacramento Bon Marche department store. Though just seventeen, she won Best Window Design and went on to win two more in the next years. Her artwork in the window displays always drew an audience.

Anita left Sacramento for a cross country trip that ended in New York City, where she decided to live for the next ten years. She wanted to immerse herself in the arts.

After seeing the vibrant mosaics in the neighborhood churches, she was drawn to the glowing colors illuminated only by candlelight and windows. The young artist began experimenting with glass and clay techniques. She produced several large mosaics and presented her work to a small east side gallery. The gallery included her in a group show that also included a young Andy Warhol.

The show sold one of her pieces and within a year the mosaics were selling well, along with her charcoal drawings and oil paintings. Commissions kept her in art supplies and cat food.

Life in New York was fun and challenging, but after ten years the West was beginning to pull her back. Anita missed the land, rivers, and mountains of northern California. She packed up her drafting table, easel, plus Misty the cat, and headed back to the land of her childhood.

Anita’s subjects of choice reflected her love of the outdoors. Over the years she has shown extensively in California. Her association with Pacific Western Traders in 1972 was a natural. Soon after that she began to manage our Native American Art Gallery and exhibit her work in it for several years. Her recent work, (which includes wildlife and mosaics) is currently on display at Pacific Western Traders.

She continued to complete many commissions, which include three panels for the Yosemite Museum, a large painting for the Folsom History Museum, mosaic panels for Aerojet General and two life size Maidu dance figures for the Maidu Interpretive Museum in Roseville. Her book cover illustration for Naida West’s book “Eye of the Bear” won a best illustrated book cover award for the year 2000.

The gallery is open Wednesday through Sunday 10:00 to 5:00.

See Maidu Echoes from the American River: Mosaics, Paintings & Drawings By Gayle Anita September 1 to October 11, 2007 at Pacific Western Traders, 305 Wool Street just off Sutter Street.

Courtney Puffer is a writer and art dealer, who runs Pacific Western Traders with his father, Herb, in Folsom, California. Courtney is extremely knowledgeable about native American art and customs. Sadly, Courtney passed away on 17th September, 2008, while on a business trip, but his writing lives on at NewsBlaze.