The Equinox Petroglyph Project:              

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Stephanie Francis

One cold, autumn morning in a low valley a great gray stone sat covered with dew. The rock was very old and had sat there for many, many moons. It had seen the passing of many animals and many seasons but this day as kisuhs heated the rock and the dew rose as mist from it, kisuhs decided to give life to this rock. So as the rock grew hotter and the steam from the dew hovered over it, this old rock was given the body of an old woman. This was Uhkomossol.

Kathy Pollard 2008

This composition is comprised of interpretive reproductions of ancient Native American petroglyphs from two regions in Maine. The canoe and horned serpent can be found on smooth ledge that projects out into the Kennebec River at Embden, Maine. All of the other petroglyphs are from sites that border the ocean in the Machias Bay area, in traditional lands of the Passamaquoddy. These sacred sites were taken by settlers during the land grabs of about 250-500 years ago, when the land base of the Maine Indian Nations and Tribes shrank to a tiny fraction of their original homeland. Thanks to Peter and Ann Gommers, and many other dedicated people--in an amazing reversal of the usual order of things--one of the petroglyphph sites, called Picture Rocks, in Machiasport, Maine, was just returned to the Passamaquoddy Tribe in 2006.

There are hundreds of petroglyphs in the locations I have mentioned. No written explanation was left by the artists who made them to clarify their meaning. Interpretations therefore vary, and the way I have construed them is but one possible perspective among many. In making this composition, my goal was to depict a sense of the circle of life as it was for The People before everything changed, and to juxtapose that circle with the sense of foreboding that the waves of boats from across the great water brought to these shores. The large circle symbolizes the cyclical continuity of the creation, and the twelve smaller connected discs symbolize the twelve moons in a year of passing time. Some of the circles contain animals the people relied upon for survival. Some show phases of a family's life cycle; a couple holding hands, a woman giving birth, the couple with their child held aloft between them. The figure with the dogs may be a medicine woman, the other person with arms outstretched could be a shaman. The man in the birch bark canoe is encountering a sea serpent in his travels...

When one visits the petroglyph sites--which were also in some cases ancient village sites occupied by Native peoples for many thousands of years--there is a sense of time having stopped when life was interrupted there. The fact that these lands were claimed by people who had no right to them has not been lost in the ambiance of these places. There is a certain feeling to them. Perhaps this is because the evidence of those who lived there first could not be erased, even if their descendants were constrained from access. Strewn about the beaches, one can see the remains of tools--chips and flakes of rocks from all over, as far away as Labrador, and south to the Carolinas; arrowheads, knife blades, beautiful red Munsungan chert scrapers. Shell middens that are twenty feet deep. You can almost hear the echos of children laughing, dogs barking, drums marking the rhythm of a culture's heartbeat. And then the wind sighs and the spell is broken...It is in this context that one petroglyph in particular has spoken to me since I first saw it; the central picture of the woman with a haunted look and what appear to be tears in her eyes. In making this image, what was the oringial artist's intended meaning? No one will ever surely know. But I think of another petroglyph when I look in those haunted eyes. Across the way, at a nearby site is a picture of a square-sailed ship, with a cross in front of it, probably commemorating first contacts with Europeans, and perhaps the advent of Christianity--or the deaths by the thousands after exposure to diseases the populations had no antibodies to fight. In this painting, I believe the spirits guided me to juxtapose the face of the woman against the repeated shadowy, ominous image of the ship and cross petroglyph. That face spoke to me of a survivor's sorrow...

Before sending this piece off to the Cherokee Nation's Trail of Tears Art Show, Donald Soctomah--a Passamaquoddy tribal leader--told me something I did not know. He said that at the time other tribes, including the Cherokee, were being forced to leave our homelands, there had been a government proposal to also remove the tribes of Maine, who comprise the Wabanaki Confederacy, to west of the Mississippi. But the government believed there were so few Indians left (populations having been decimated in this region by war, starvation, diseases, bounties, and shrinking land base), that it would not make sense to go to the bother of removing them--it was believed the remaining Indians would all die off soon enough anyway. That is what saved the Wabanaki peoples--the Penobscots, the Micmacs, the Maliseet, and the Passamaquoddy--from losing everything. Tears come to my own eyes when I think of that. In the end, time proved the government wrong. The native peoples of this region did not die off. All four tribes are still here, still connected to the land that sustained them since time immemorial, still maintaining the cultural continuity of their ancestors!

I would like to thank my friend Bill Henderson for gifting me with the extraordinary piece of birch bark that is the canvas for this piece. With its many character marks, woodpecker holes, cracks, and the like, it was not suitable for use in my basketwork--and yet, over time, it beckoned to me with its beauty and the possibility of what it could become! I could not have made this piece without the guidance of those ancient artists who first created the images so long ago. As the idea took form in my mind's eye, I could feel their spirits surrounding me. Sometimes, as I worked with the composition, I would hear, "yes, yes", agreeing that the placement of a certain petroglyph in relation to the others was right. I hope I have honored these spirits, as well as their descendants, with this piece. By bringing the images to a wider audience, more people will know of this beautiful cultural treasure that exists in Maine--some of the only known locations of petroglyphs in the Northeast.

In contemplating the history that unfolded in the Americas after the arrival of Europeans, words like genocide, conquest, hunger, disease, war, political prisoners, and refugees all come to mind. Each indigenous tribe and nation has its story of what was lost--land, children, language, wisdom of the elders, religion--and of the ongoing struggle to put the pieces back together. I believe that it is important to acknowledge that what happened here has happened elsewhere before, and that somewhere else on this planet--many places, in fact--even as I write these words, the same legacies are unfolding. For, since humans began spreading across the earth, there have been brutal conflicts over territory, religion and resources. And wherever there are survivors, there is sorrow. The wide-eyed hollow face of loss, the tears that soak the ground to mingle where blood of loved ones also has spilled. If that petroglyph of the woman's face represents sorrow, it is as relevant today as a symbol of loss as it was when made on the coast of Maine long ago. It is a testament to the indomitable sprirt of this continent's Native Peoples that despite everything that has been endured, survivors pick up the pieces and go forward, asserting their right to their connection to ancestral ways, and to religious freedom and cultural continuity...Finally, it is my hope that this piece will resonate within the hearts and spirits of its viewers, and that prayers will go out for all those people suffering the same sorrows in the world today, and a prayer for peace to someday take root once and for all on Mother Earth, our only home.

Kathy Pollard 2008

Long before I learned that the petroglyph reproduced here has been defined as a squatting man, a listening shaman, or a man with a club, I saw it as a depiction of a woman in the traditional birthing position, hands to her head, bearing down that final time, at the point in the process where just one last push is needed to bring new life into the world! In ancient times, most women delivered their babies this way, knowing instinctively that laboring in a vertical orientation would allow gravity to help in the process. In parts of the world where western medicine (with its insistence on a horizontal birthing position) has not reached, this is still the traditional way to give birth...

Perhaps of all of the petroglyphs, this one epitomizes why the "Equinox Pertoglyph Project, Interpretations By Women and Children", is so important. It is a great demonstration of how the viewer's gender influences his or her interpretation of the petroglyph images. Most women who see the squatting figure see it as a woman giving birth, most men seem to see it as a shaman listening, or a man with a club. While I totally respect the latter interpretations, I am glad that there is room now for a different perspective to be presented and considered. In the end, none of us can ever know for certain what the original artist intended to depict in this particular image, and thus there is no right or wrong to any of the proposed interpretations! (By the way, I have often wondered what the perpendicular mass above the person's right shoulder is. Some say it's a club. Could it possibly be the child's hovering spirit waiting to inhabit the body after his or her birth, or a spirit helper attending the birth?!)

The Dream of the Future
Patty Vinzani

Statement of purpose of art:
Birch Point resonates with energy; it speaks in peace and self-reflection. There the autumnal equinox glistened as we shared our honored sisterhood of creativity.
The People are still there and spoke to me. I received a living, breathing image. A mother who loved her babies and cared for her family trusted me to tell her story.

Moose Print (Rubbing)
Carol Hedden

The black print of a pregnant moose dating from about 500 years ago, comes from the western end of  the “whale-back” ledge at Birch Point in Machiasport.  The petroglyphs from this ledge seem to be related to the Medowin’s (shaman’s) preparations for the hunt of large game animals.  The print in red, dating from about 1500 years ago, shows a Medowin with helper spirits during a vision trance and comes from an island in Machmias Bay. The sensations of the “out-of-body” experience are expressed through the passive posture, withered arms and elongated torso. The rounded bodies of the helper spirits may visualize the hope and promise for a sucessful hunt.

Note: Petroglyphs are vulnerable to wear and tear from natural causes, casual visitation and the most well-intentioned efforts to record and save the images. Our one time use of the "Surface Printing" technique on nine sites at Machias Bay has produced an invaluable record with details that would be difficult and expensive to reproduce in any other medium. This record will be preserved for posterity. Our goal is to manage the original rock surfaces that survive so that the images are available for appreciation and study as long as they remain visible. To that end, please observe caution and do not walk on rocks known to have petroglyphs. Above all, avoid using any medium or technique of recording that involves pressure or cleaning the surface.