The Petrified Forest: Residency, Coming and Going

This set of posts will be a journal of  my residency at the Petrified Forest, within the Painted Desert, in northeastern Arizona. I am scheduled to be at the Petrified Forest (east and south of the Grand Canyon) Sept. 26 through Oct 9, 2010, but as usual, I have further plans both coming and going.

I have been on the road for two plus days now, since Sept. 16, 2010, moving erratically toward northeastern Arizona, and since I have painted a couple of panels, I thought I’d start latest  residency blog.

Jer, my husband, and I started our trip by making a side excursion to an area of Oregon, the Wallowa Mountains and Valley and the towns of Enterprise and Joseph, that we haven’t visited before.

This is stunning country. Glaciated mountains, deep gorges, wide dry-land valleys at altitudes that provide exquisitely breathable air. The Wallowa Valley is also the site of one of America’s least exquisite actions. The Valley and Wallowa Lake was the summering place for the Joseph band of the Nez Perce Indians, a group that was hounded from its treaty-obtained landholdings and which made a 1,170 mile trek –men, women, children, young and old — trying to reach Canada before the US Army captured and/or killed them all. It’s an old story, told of many groups over many years and in many countries, but still horrifying.

I was particularly struck by the story because we lodged for three nights during our stay on a bluff above the Wallowa Valley, overlooking the farms and ranches that sit so peaceably on the Joseph Band’s land.   It’s a stunningly beautiful setting at this time of year, tawny grasses, new plowed fields, some greening fields, trees along the Wallowa River and the various waterways that feed it , and behind all this, the Wallowa Mountains, rising to glacier heights. The clouds and fog drift in and about the mountains, while the valley sits in clear air. The beauty of the land made the loss of it for the Joseph Band all the more poignant to me.

So, I needed to do some painting — hadn’t done any for a number of days. I found the perfect spot for the view I wanted just outside the motel. It overlooks a good part of the Valley and mountains, and although out of my sight while I painted, also contained the road sign shown above. I wanted to try to imagine, by looking at the flesh of the earth beneath the human changes, what the valley might have looked like before it was farmed and roaded and housed.

The Wallowa Valley, Summer home of the Joseph Band, Nez Perce, (first draft) 12 x 24″ Oil on masonite, 2010

And then I painted the scene as it looks today, all tidy and patchworked with fields.

The Wallowa Valley, Farms and Ranches. (First draft) 12 x 24″, oil on masonite, 2010.

Both paintings will need further work, preferably in light that’s less glaring. I did them both in a single stretch of about five hours.  But they are the first of the “residency” paintings and as such, must take their place here.

The sign (photograph above), that sits along an overlook just as the road begins its drop down the bluff to the river’s edge, reads:

Nez Perce

Wallowa Valley, summer homeland of the Joseph Band Nez Perce, was part of the expansive Nez Perce reservation established by the treaty of 1855. Upon discovery of gold in the region, the US eliminated the reservation in the Wallowas in 1863. The Joseph Band held on until 1877 when, under pressure from increasing white settlement, they were ordered to abandon their ancestral homeland. Violent conflicts issued as the Joseph Band joined other Nez Perce and Palouse Bands on a historic 1,170 Mile retreat. After five months of elusive flight, with his people exhausted, freezing, and heavily outnumbered, Joseph in dignified surrender proclaimed: “From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.” With promises made by the generals at their surrender broken, the Nez Perce were never allowed to return home, though Chief Joseph pleaded their case until his death in 1904.

I will blog as I paint, which I’m hoping to manage to do almost every day. It’s a long way to the Petrified Forest, and most of the journey is along Interstate Highways, so the scenes are not likely to be as beautiful and heartbreaking as this. In some ways, I’m glad that won’t be the case. –June

For more jaunty views of the road trip, you can check out

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