Thursday, September 25, 2014

Catching Dreams in Four Directions

The theme for my guild's challenge this month is Native American/Southwest. I may have mentioned previously on this blog my former love affair with Native American art. It began as a college student as I became aware of environmental issues. A fan of Greenpeace and their ship, The Rainbow Warrior, at that time I learned the Native American Prophecy that gave the Greenpeace ship it's name:

"When the earth is ravaged and the animals are dying, a new tribe of people shall come unto the earth from many colors, classes, creeds and who by their actions and deeds shall make the earth green again. They will be known as the warriors of the rainbow."   -- Old Native American Prophecy

It was this quote that inspired my first environmental artwork, which was a wood cut print. I guess because it was a time of exploring different ideas to find that which resonated with my soul, I delved into Native American stories. I became fascinated with the symbolism, and their respect for the earth and every living thing captivated me and mirrored my own beliefs. My entire senior drawing portfolio was based upon Native American art. 

Later, I learned how to weave a dreamcatcher. At the time, there was a bit of a craze for them, and I wanted to make one as a gift for a special friend (the mom of one of my best friends). She had Native American blood in her ancestry and she kept a collection of Native American figurines and southwest decor. This bit of my history was the basis for this piece. I knew I wanted to create something incorporating the liquid polymer coated string, so I decided to revisit my history and make a dream catcher. But I wanted something more, I looked at medicine wheels and wanted to incorporate some of the symbolism from medicine wheels into the piece. Here is a great image that shows some of the symbolism and colors associated with the 4 directions on a medicine wheel:

Thinking about the piece further, I decided to try to make my own feather, using the string coated with liquid polymer idea with which I've been playing recently. The feather alone took a full day to make, that's a lot of string! Have a look:

I decided to make the frame of the dreamcatcher/medicine wheel resemble a wooden branch. But, I didn't have enough packages of clay in tones of brown, so I began by wrapping my base support with scrap clay. I decided that I really liked the mottled undertones from the scraps, so I just smeared some burnt sienna and black paints onto the surface so that the clay could give a sort of underpainting effect to the circular bases. A smear of transparent liquid polymer with a scattering of embossing powder after curing gave just the right finish. I wove the dreamcatcher part with string and coated it with transparent liquid polymer. 

I sketched out some ideas as to how to create the medicine wheel part of the piece. I wanted something that looked authentic, so I decided to create a piece of faux leather and chose to paint my four direction animal and color symbols onto that surface. For this piece, I mixed up some buckskin color using translucent, ecru and raw sienna Premo. Tearing the edges gave me the look I wanted, of an animal pelt that was cut with crude tools. The surface was given a faux leather treatment which involved texturing it, adding hints of burnt sienna acrylic paint and spot scorching to bring out a darker amber in selected areas. The stylized 4 direction animals were painted on top of the faux leather piece with acrylic paint in their symbolic colors. 

The hardest part of this entire piece was threading and securing the faux leather to the rings! I first tried to use the same string I used in the dreamcatcher and feather, but it kept breaking when I pulled too tight and was too loose to hold the heft of the faux leather. I needed something with less give, so thankfully I had a ball of natural hemp cord which was strong enough and taught enough to do the trick. The final touch was to add the feather to the side of the frame and attach some dangling beads. Had I had more time, I would have made some faux turquoise beads for this, but I didn't want to be working until deadline as I did last month... so I opted to raid my bead stash. I chose some turquoise beads that were repurposed from a vintage piece of jewelry I bought from a local place. I'm not quite sure what the original material of these beads is, I'm afraid it might be dyed bone. I was hoping to say this piece is a vegan dreamcatcher since everything I made for it is faux (no sinew, no leather, no feather) but I can't say that due to my hunch about the beads. Ah well...  maybe I will eventually take the time to make those faux turquoise beads and swap them out... might be a selling point on etsy! ;)
Here's the back of the piece, for those who are curious:

I am really pleased with this, but I don't feel the need to keep this one, so it will go to my etsy shop... It was a nice return to a former passion (theme) and all went fairly smooth with this project. I was really pleased with the faux feather, and it was fun to create! I'll be moving on from the lpc covered string idea for a while, as I revisit another technique which I explored a year ago. I'm hoping to write an article based on my upcoming experimentations and I'm excited about the new ideas that are brewing for the potential article! Hopefully I'll still be able to come up with pieces for the next few challenges while I work on my article pieces... stay tuned!  

I'll try once again to post a voting reminder... voting for this challenge opens October 1st and will close on October 7th at midnight. Please leave me a comment below and give me some feedback on this piece and anything else you care to share about Native American art! Thanks for visiting!



  1. Wow, Beth! This is my favorite of your designs so far. Maybe I'm biased because I'm from the southwest and half my family are Cherokee. Or because you made faux leather and feathers and I'm a fan of cruelty-free art. Or because of the wonderful history of your Native American studies. But mostly because it's such an amazingly well-designed, carefully planned, and perfectly executed piece.

    1. Wow! I'm overwhelmed by your generous comments Tammy! I'm glad this piece speaks to you.. and how cool that you have Cherokee blood in your ancestry! I only just found out a couple years ago that I have a Lenni Lenape ancestor (my great great grandmother), I often wonder if somehow that drew me to my love of Native American stories and art! ;)

  2. Beth, you really got this one! I love it, first, when I saw it and hadn't read the post and now even more when I know how and why it came about. That center piece looks a lot like leather. I was asking myself how she managed to get clay on the leather. Great job. You are a true artist and a wonderful and mindful soul. be proud!

    1. Aw, Thank you so much Line! Your comments mean so much! :) And the same can be said for you my friend!

  3. Hi Beth, What a great piece of art, you really nailed it. I was also just sitting here gazing at the pictures with that 'how did she do that' look on my face. Then I read the words. I'm only Native American by my great appreciation of them and their culture. You were probably drawn to it because of your appreciation of art and the meaning of the beautiful creations. It speaks to you, as yours did to me, without any great details.
    I only just found your blog from Ginger's post on Facebook about blogs and am glad I did. I hope you do some more Native American artwork. You are really good at it. I really like the color you got on those turquoise beads also.
    Take care,

    1. Hi Jay! Thanks so much for stopping by to check out my blog, and for your kind and thoughtful comments! I always seem to return to mimicking Native American art, so it's a good possibility that I'll revisit another Native American project idea in the future! ;) Thanks and best regards!


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