Sky House

1993, 42 X 30 inches, limited to
195 images in six colors, signed, titled and numbered
on 100% cotton rag paper of archival quality.
In many ways this is one of my most ambitous serigraphs. It’s one of my largest but with a larger reach yet takes up the two major forms of Western North American native cultures, the Southwest and the Northwest Coast: the kiva to the totem.  Although I regard the cultures as unalike as Irish Celtic is from Shang Dynasty China it has been an enjoyable foray to use Northwest Coast design forms and conventions to express or symbolize major foundation stories or myths of the Southwest.
One evening while driving from Vancouver, B. C. to Seattle, Washington I imagined a kind of construction, like a house, suspended in the air complete with a great Northwest Coast native-style formline painting. It was filled with images of “the hosts of heaven” and it was a welcoming house, close in graphic style to giant 19th century housefront paintings of the Tsimshian peoples of coastal British Columbia. But I did not know of any myth from the Northwest Coast that could speak in large, cosmological terms about a meaning and plan to existence. Instead, I discovered something like this, among the Hopi Indians of the Southwestern United States as expressed in Frank Water’s volume “The Book of the Hopi.”
Although Hopi in concept, the form of Sky House” is pure - well, modified - Northwest Coast style, what is called “formline” art. This style is one of the constructs in world art, a consisten system which by known rules can visually order any given space with the proportion of a coherent and harmonios esthetic.   Though never explicit, it seems to me that rmine art by itself connotes a philosophy of armony and balance at least profound as the creation story of the Hopi world.  I has seemed natural, then, to join the two.
At the top, seven “Coppers” (Northwest Coast symbols of wealth and power, in this case signifying mankind) with the larger one in the middle being the fourth and current world. Below, Taiowa, the Hopi creator, stetches out his hands over the newly minted cosmos, calming wind and water. Tucked into his cheeks are images of Raven and Eagle, founding symbols of Northwest Coast society. Taiowa is flanked by Palongawhoya and Poqanghoya.  These are the Hopi male and female twins created and appointed to dwell at the south and north poles where they keep the world in tune, while turning to the wisdome of the creator.  Their knees rest upon a larger and more classically formalized abstract image of the face of Taiowa in Northwest Coast style, very similar to the layout of a traditional face side of a Northwest Coast carved and painted chest.  This is complete with nose, mouth and tongue, and with his wide eyes filled with other of his creatures.  These include one of two helpers - Sotukanang and Kokyangwuti in the center of each eye - flanked on both sides with two the original human beings they helped to create.  In the center at the base of the serigraph is a full, wondering face which symbolizes these original people.  It is complete with an opening in its skull representing both the top, or God”chakra” as well as the sipapuni up through which human beings are said to have arisen into the various worlds.
Looking at the whole image, this face also represents the body of Taiowa with his hands (doubling as the hands of the single human face) held upright in a benign gesture of completion. The lower right and left profiles of what are sometimes known as “salmon-trout heads” are standard shapes in a formline construction of this kind.  They represent the salmon itself as the basis of Northwest Coast native society.
“Sky House” was printed on Vashon Island, Washington, in the spring of 1993 by printer Jim Hunziker in close collaboration with the artist.  Though reasonably color fast, this 100% cotton rag paper should not be  exposed to direct sunlight for long periods of time.
Barry Herem

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