A natural object or animal believed by a particular society to have particular spiritual significance.

I'm not sure many people have totems any more, but I still have mine. Some times seem more important than others to keep them in mind. This is a good week for me to think on my own.

From an ongoing series that goes... I know not where.

On a Pennsylvania backroad....

as the Bullet crept up a long grade, hauling the trailer, the little bear popped out in front of us. 12 up noon, bright sunny day, about the last thing I would expect. He slowly walked across in front of us, then as we drew close, hopped up on the guard rail and launched into the undergrowth.

Think what you want. I'm taking it as a good omen, as I do with bears.
I've been neglecting all things electronic, while painting like mad. Always having to work at maintaining balance. We'll see.

Slough Creek

Slough Creek Overlook, Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park,
48 x 58 inches, oil on canvas, curio cabinet, 8 x 59 inches.

One of the core pieces from the show, The Artifact of Landscape, opening with a reception tomorrow at the Lockhart Gallery, 5 - 7 pm. The Gallery is located at 26 Main Street in Geneseo New York.

This piece is representative of a new direction in my work, landscape on a scale large enough to have a presence in front of the viewer, combined with a cabinet full of artifacts of and from that landscape. The close-ups below are the cabinet contents, spread between plaster casts of buffalo, grizzly and wolf tracks.


ar⋅ti⋅fact - a handmade object, as a tool, or the remains of one, as a shard of pottery, characteristic of an earlier time or cultural stage, esp. such an object found at an archaeological excavation.

Molly's footprint. She's our 70 lb. lab/hound princess.

I don't know when I first made a cast- maybe a project in Cub Scouts, maybe in school. But the process always fascinated me, and I've made a few over the years.

A wolf track, the cast made along the Ivishak river several years ago.

A lot of people have the impression that wolves are like big dogs, like 100 lb. German Shepherd. I did, til my son and I saw them in Yellowstone a few summers back. They are like shepherds, just way bigger. Like a shepherd and a half. The track is almost 4 inches wide. Measure your hand. Wilderness makes you feel small. Vulnerable. I like to think it puts me in my place.

While I was in Alaska, I saw several grizzly tracks, and each time, my hair was on end, a queasy stomach. Lots of tracks, but none sharp enough to cast. Yes, I did have enough plaster, despite the weight limit on the bush plane. Not so many clean clothes, but I had the plaster. Just no sharp, well defined tracks.

The Lamar Valley in Yellowstone. Between here and the Hayden Valley, tough to say which is my favorite place in the park. Last year I fished the Lamar River too late into the evening. Til dark. The Lamar Valley, home to wolves, black bear and grizzlies.

I tried to be very quiet back to the van. A walk on wobbly legs, a sinking feeling in my stomach. Turned out fine.

But when I opened a package the other day, in the warm, safe confines of my studio, the sinking feeling was there instantly. I didn't make the cast, but I guess as a post-modernist, I'll appropriate it.

What's with the casts?

It's taken me a while to get here, I don't want to spill it all in one post.

Evolution of a bear.

I am not a wildlife artist. So I've been saying for 25 years. And I'm not, unless I am. A somewhat atypical piece for me, a point along my own evolutionary path.

It is the memory of things I see and experience that I am most interested in. I have had an idea floating around in my head for a while now, about how this might be applied to animal imagery. Black Bear is not exactly what I have in mind, but it is a step along the path that I am happy with. Drawing something is one of the most effective ways for me to learn about it, to embed the memory. It is departing from the drawing and making something more than a rendering- that is the struggle.

Evolution is a slowly ongoing process, even on a personal level.

Black Bear, 44 x 40 inches, oil on canvas. Private collection.

Animal Dreams

Six bear sketches, pencil on paper.

Planning/thinking sketches for a piece I'm working on. You wouldn't guess that I don't have any interest in being a wildlife artist. I always enjoy looking at good wildlife art, but as with the rest of my work, it is the memory of experience that I am interested in. Memory of the natural world, and how that shapes us as human beings. What things fill my mind and imagination, inform who I am and how I relate to the world.

Jim Harrison has written of his dreams of animals and how he thinks they are somehow representative of himself and how his psyche is trying to work things out symbolicly that he can't figure out in his waking life. I'm sure that's a terrible interpretation of what he said, but that's why I paint and don't write novels. It doesn't mean I agree with him any less.

Bears, dogs, horses, birds, fish. And pretty much every other animal. All interesting to me. All in my head after I see them. It's funny to me, but I dream of animals frequently, and while I can easily see how many/most of the animals I dream of could be representative of something else, Molly and Finn are always there as themselves.

Always themselves

Horse by Jim Harrison What if it were our privilege
to sculpt our dreams of animals?
But those shapes in the night
come and go too quickly to be held
in stone: but not to avoid these shapes
as if dreams were only a nighttime
pocket to be remembered and avoided.
Who can say in the depths of
his life and heart what beast
most stopped life, the animals
he watched, the animals he only touched
in dreams? Even our hearts don’t beat
the way we want them to. What
can we know in the waking,
sleeping edge? We put down
my daughter’s old horse, old and
arthritic, a home burial. By dawn with eye
half open, I said to myself, is
he still running, is he still running
around, under the ground? from The Theory and Practice of Rivers, Winn Books, 1985
Lifted from poetry dispatch & other notes from the underground

Of Bears and Buffalo

So this year I get into Yellowstone, find a campsite, and head out for a bit of evening sightseeing. Before long, I'm in the Lamar Valley, surrounded by buffalo. As the herd moved closer to the road, a constant rumbling - somewhere between a burp and a roar- reverberates through them all. Mothers to calves, bulls to cows, bulls to one another. As they neared the road, I climbed out the window onto the roof of the Jug. Buffalo everywhere.

I spent a few days drawing, hiking and exploring. Trying to get a handle on this new idea of landscape painting I am thinking about. For years I have avoided working from or with photographs. I've promised people, Give me a photograph to work from, I'll give you a bad painting.

But now I am faced with the need for more information, and I don't have the time to spend drawing all the things I would like to include. Seems that photography will be necessary.

I hope I have learned enough to avoid the tyranny of all the detail

Tundra Grizzly, bronze, edition of 35

I love all the wildlife there, but would it be Yellowstone without the bears? The night I camped at Pebble Creek campground, a grizzly chomped on a guy's hand after it tried to push his way into the man's tent, at another campground just down the road, outside the park. The bear eventually left when the man's calls for help alerted others. Investigators said the man had done everything right- kept a clean camp, didn't have any food in his tent. Who knows what that bear was thinking. I have to admit, I slept better not finding out about it til I had gone.

On my way out I watched a big grizzly on an elk carcass. From a looooooooong ways away. From inside the Jug. The carcass was black with rot, and the bear laid on top of it, burying his head in for another mouthful. Beautiful, mesmerizing, terrifying - all the things I love about wilderness, though seeing from the road in a National Park can hardly be considered wilderness.

Finally, as I approached the bridge over the Yellowstone River, traffic was stopped. Apparently the river was too high for a black bear to swim, and as it waited on the shoulder of the road, rangers stopped traffic and cleared the bridge. And the bear crossed. Obviously anxious - from the traffic, the spectators, being stared at?

Who knows what that bear was thinking.