The first couple came to Astoria this fall from Tasmania, a land far away, bright-eyed and hair tousled and intelligent — artist Neil Hoffmann, potter and sculptor, and his lovely wife, Ann.
And behind them, early in October, came the Maori, nine artists returning from New Zealand after a three-year absence.
They have become comrades, friends and devotees of a bridge between artists and distant communities — hands reaching across oceans to reunite with our art community, to share commonalities.
The Maori reunion began with a bilingual welcoming at the ancient Chinook cove at Fort Columbia. The rendezvous was as rich as the landscape. Tony Johnson of the Chinook Nation gave the welcoming in the ancient language of his people. Baye Riddell, a Maori elder, answered in his own tongue.
Richard Rowland and his wife, Patti, arranged the visits with help from friends. Richard is a respected potter known by many artists in the Pacific Northwest who teaches at Clatsop Community College. He is a man of deep passion and skill. Patti stands beside Richard, as strong a contributor to the arts community as one can find.
Who else but the Rowlands remain so committed to opening arms and minds to the greater community of indigenous artists? Like a fastball snagged in the web of a baseball glove, they corral talent.
The recipients of this love and art are the residents of the Columbia-Pacific community, you and me. And maybe the world at large. How lucky we are!
Richard and Patti are empowered by a sense of comradeship, drawing a circle around art and fine craftsmanship and human relationships. For decades, the couple have engaged the power of art. They have delivered it, often funding the rendezvous out of their own pockets.
The power of art
Stop a second and think about those illuminating words: the power of art. After storms and wars, after earthquakes and pestilence, what is left is the best of us: our art, architecture, ancient sandstone carvings, 11th century cathedrals, Giotto’s stucco murals adorning walls of Italian chapels. And Picasso paintings. Canvases by Masaccio, Leonardo and Jackson Pollack. By Matisse and Caravaggio.
Not all have survived. When my wife created my Facebook page, we named it “Pottery Survives.”
Last month a museum in Argentina burned down to the stone walls. Gone were two million artifacts. Buried also was a legacy. One art historian declared how he wept for two solid days. Wars! Devastation, human and natural! Count the waste.
In a small cave in Altamira, Spain, and another in Lascaux, France, paintings scribed from charcoal and sienna-colored clay, from decayed reeds and plants, dance in our imagination with revelations we can only guess at. Who were these people, our ancestors, our progenitors? They are us. We have come to recognize a lot, and yet, we know so little. But these paintings from tens of thousands of years ago of bison and horses, gazelles and human hand prints, inspire us to the marrow of our bones.
Back at the kiln
It is October. A community of potters prepares to fire the Anagama kiln on the Rowlands’ property. For months, they have gathered cord-loads of firewood; cut it, split and stacked it; allowed the faggots to dry.
With the Maori participating, the kiln will be fired for a week. Stoked to temperatures of nearly 2,400 degrees. Cooled, unloaded and, because of their trial by fire, those pots emerge precious from the kiln.
In say, 1,000 years, how many will remain? Well, we pray for the best, just as our ancestors did. And hope. Dreams piggyback on these two human aspirations, prayer and hope.
Meanwhile, the Maori inspire. They bring us their art. They share their culture. They indulge in a rare brotherhood and sisterhood. They offer this and more to Clatsop Community College, to the hillside kiln, and to the potters.
‘We are all one people’
There’s something special and unexpected about indigenous cultures. Their writers and artists and teachers inspire us to often forgotten ways of life; to an inside perspective of nature and art; to a living touch that gallops beyond the accumulation of greenbacks.
Once, we were all indigenous, bound to the land of our ancestors. Perhaps that is why so much of what remains of indigenous cultural traditions speaks to us on a deep level. It reminds us of our own faded connections.
We catch fragments. The Maori offer us song, prayers, a language ancient but new to our ears, born of a peculiar devotion to ancient stories and music and deeply felt art.
They speak to and for the elders, and just as frequently, the old ways.
Finally, there is this: We are all one people, and destiny haunts our footsteps.