Mythologies

 

Bluebonnets
Bluebonnets

When I heard that I had been chosen as one of the 3 Navasota Artists in Residence, I was eager to find out a little more about the city before arriving. I performed a basic Google search and came across an interesting blog entry  that analyzed the Yoeme etymology of Navasota: Nava + Ota = “prickly bones” or skeletons. The namesake of Navasota has other possible origins, discussed in that entry and elsewhere. Having lived in town for about a month now has allowed me to peruse some other sources. In “Texas Place Names,” Fred Tarpley writes that Navasota was changed from Nolansville, after James Nolan, 3 years after it was founded in 1855 because it was located between the Navasota and Brazos rivers. He suggests that the Spanish either derived “Navasota” from the Indian, Nabototo, whose name means “Muddy Waters,” or from “nativity of De Soto” (p.144). Comparing research and stories slowly informs a better picture of the whole.

 

An illustration of the bluebonnet by Mrs. Wills, who began her hand-painted compendium of Texas wildflowers while she was recuperating from a serious illness, starting with specimens brought to her by her husband, Col. W.D. Wills.
An illustration of the bluebonnet by Mrs. Wills, who began her hand-painted compendium of Texas wildflowers while she was recuperating from a serious illness, starting with specimens brought to her by her husband, Col. W.D. Wills.

Another thing I was curious about was the Bluebonnet, the State Flower of Texas. Before leaving the island, a lady at FedEx remarked that the delivery company’s colors are blooming in Texas springtime. Indeed they are: bluebonnets and paintbrushes in fields of green. There are several varieties of the Lupinus genus to be found in the southwestern US. The Lupinus texensis is not the only species heavily planted (30,000-60,000 lbs annually) along highways. Another variety and original official state flower, the sandyland bluebonnet, is a deeper blue and also known as the buffalo clover. What is the significance of the flower? I came across a popular folktale (you can find a lovely illustrated version by Tomie DePaola) that goes:

Long ago, there was a terrible drought in the land and many people suffered. A young girl named She-Who-Is-Alone sacrifices her most prized possession, a doll, to the Great Spirits. This doll is her only connection to the family she has lost. The Great Spirits accept her gift, end the drought, and as a sign of forgiveness, they cover the  ground every spring with beautiful blue bonnets.

To me, it seems like a version of the proverbial rainbow after the great biblical flood, except changing some important elements around.

I recently just finished reading Alone by the Sea by Effie Missouria Moore and came across another story by chance. One of the author’s characters shares, “The legend runs something like this: An Indian princess, thinking her lover untrue, jumped from a cliff, wearing a blue bonnet. She was killed, naturally, and a few weeks later, the ground where she fell was covered with little blue flowers resembling little bonnets, hence the name blue bonnet (p.161).”  This tale of the bluebonnet is less rosy, but it exists, nonetheless. There are sure to be more variations of the story.

 

"Extinction" (2011)
“Extinction” (2011)

About this time in 2011, I was working on a temporary mural called Extinction. In psychology, extinction refers to the gradual weakening of a conditioned response that results in behavior decreasing or vanishing. The mural featured a huge wooly mammoth and elements collected from waking dreams. The nonsensical nature of dreams can be fascinating yet perplexing. There is no definite way of interpreting them. For a few weeks I worked with a small brush and inks, adding drawings, filling the wall until it became confusingly full. After that point I wiped out most of the drawings, leaving a grey fog, a few things, and the mammoth. I guess the mammoth reminded some people of elephants and the parable of the blind men and the elephant came up.

How did 5 blind men arrive at this elephant-handling circumstance, do you ask? One possibility is that they were out for their daily pentagonal stroll and came across a dead one. More likely, one day a rich tycoon grew bored of the straightforward pleasures of elephant poaching and decided to liven up the sport. After chasing a beast for hundreds of miles by helicopter with heavy ammunition, he was able to have his footmen drug and sedate the wearied thing, whereupon he embarked upon his new game. Finding 5 blind men, he parlayed them into coming with him to help him identify a ‘great mysterious creature’ that he had ‘just so happened to stumble upon.’ The 5 blind men, in spite of their blindness, were quite self-assured and thus agreed to help. The rest of the story evolved to the amusement of a despot who had too much time and money on his hands. The story of the blind men and the elephant goes:

…One blind man, who had touched the trunk of the elephant, said that the elephant must be like a thick tree branch. Another who touched the tail said the elephant probably looked like a snake or rope. The third man, who touched the leg, said the shape of the elephant must be like a pillar. The fourth man, who touched the ear, said that the elephant must be like a huge fan; while the fifth, who touched the side, said it must be like a wall. They sat for hours and argued, each one was sure that his view was correct. Obviously, they were all correct from their own point of view, but no one was quite willing to listen to the others….

half of "Nila," by Walton Ford
half of “Nila,” by Walton Ford

In short, any subjective experience may be true, but it is limited inherently by its failure to account for other truths or totality of truth. Discovering multiple truths, or subjectivities, is part of what I take into account in the creative process. Perspective factors in to every painting.

 

At the present moment, I’m working on several light watercolors, different subjects and themes. Looking forward to the Downtown Street & Art Fair in Bryan this Saturday!

~j

"Longhorn Pride" (2015)
“Longhorn Pride” (2015)
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