Honoring Ancient Artists

“Primitive” art can stir up something primal within us today, a feeling of kinship with the artist although we may be separated by centuries.

Sharman Apt Russell, professor at Western New Mexico University and nature/science writer, writes of finding and holding a Mogollon pottery shard (which she replaces after examining) in the Gila National Forest:

I feel the substance of time, a place I can travel to while standing still.  I heft its weight.  This moment is a thousand years ago and a thousand years ago is this moment and we are both the same, that woman then and this woman now.

That’s how I feel when viewing pictographs such as the ones pictured above; I react viscerally. The ancient paintings somehow tighten my gut, and I feel an urge to raise my hands to the sky like the figure on the left.

These figures are from La Trinidad site in Baja California Sur, Mexico, and the white figures are overshadowed and pre-dated by exquisite forms painted with a deep red mineral paint.

According to knowledgeable and friendly guide Salvador Castro Drew, a native of the nearby town of Mulege, the earlier paintings, part of the Great Mural tradition of central Baja California, were created  3000 to 7000 years ago.  La Trinidad’s most well-known and most elegantly formed painting is its large (perhaps ten by twelve feet) checkerboard-bodied deer:

la trinidad checkerboard deer

When friend Heather Horsfall urged me to try rug-hooking and to create my own design to represent something meaningful to me, I thought of this deer and drew its form on linen backing to begin a pillow front.

la trinidad deer in sketch form

As I enjoy the calming activity of using my hands, I think of the ancient artist who had–as do I, as do you–the instinctual, primal urge to create.

La Trinidad deer hooked in wool

My deer does not have the graceful flow of the rock painting, but the important thing for me is the doing.  As I work with my hands, I echo people throughout history–and pre-history–who have intuitively derived pleasure from shaping something new.  As  Russell says, when I am “hooking” on this yet unfinished project:

Time folds in.  I am at the center.  It may be the closest I ever come to understanding quantum theory.


Writing Practice:

What creative activities calm you or figuratively transport you to a different time?

What artistic pieces have caused a personal, emotional response within you? 

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My friend Heather Horsfall (and Susie Stephenson) will be teaching rug hooking on a spectacular-sounding cruise next fall.  Click on the following links for information:  Horsfall and Susie Resume and Hooking info letter-1    Rug HookingSpain Cruise Flyer1


2 thoughts on “Honoring Ancient Artists

  1. I love to look at jewelry from ancient Egypt or ceramics from the Ming dynesty or Roman baths! Time machines. Painting seem more universal. Mother and babies. Flowers. Tough moments as fresh as tomorrow caught centuries ago on canvas. I feel connected a cross the eons

    • Isn’t it fascinating how we can feel connected to someone from so long ago? The painters Van Gogh, Monet, and Renoir have caused tears to spring to my eyes when I’ve seen their original work in museums. I like your concept of art as time machine. Thank you for your thoughtful and eloquent response, Linda.

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