“How Can You Buy and Sell the Sky?”

Seana Mallen’s homage to George Caitlin’s 1850 painting. In 1844 Caitlin documented Mahaska’s journey to London with a group of thirteen other Ioway people.

In 1848, my great-great grandfather Martin Snider erected the first cabin in Montezuma, Mahaska County, Iowa.

The state of Iowa was named after the Ioway natives who split off from the Oneotas around 1650.  In the early 1800s, through a series of treaties, the US government evicted the Ioways from their land.  Mahaska County was named after the Indian Chief Mahaska, or White Cloud in English.

My great-great grandfather used to tell the story of an Ioway Indian who knocked on the door and asked to borrow milk.  The Ioway’s wife had died during childbirth.  My grandfather agreed but admitted he was a bit perplexed when the man went into his barn and led his cow away.  However he did not stop him.

When the baby was weaned, the Ioway brought the cow back.  Later during the “Indian uprising” my grandfather was the only settler in the area the Ioway did not attack.

European colonists viewed the Native people as either vicious barbarians or as Noble Savages.  The Noble Savage image dates back to Bartolome de Las Casa’s 1530 writings about American natives.  1987 American high school textbooks summarized this history.

“For thousands of centuries –centuries in which human races were evolving, forming communities, and building the beginnings of national civilizations in Africa, Asia and Europe-the continents we know as the Americas stood empty of mankind and its works.”  The story of Europeans in the New World “is the story of the creation of a civilization where none existed.”  – Charles C Mann, 1491

This American myth has lasted over five centuries.  In the book 1491, Charles C. Mann calls it Holmberg’s Mistake.

“The supposition that Native Americans lived in an eternal, unhistoried state – held sway in scholarly work, and from there fanned out to high school textbooks, Hollywood movies, newspaper articles, environmental campaigns, romantic adventure books and silk-screened tee-shirts.” – Charles C. Mann, 1491

Historically the North American Indian population prior to Columbus was estimated to be around 1.15 million with a total of 8.4 million throughout the Americas.  Mann outlines new evidence that points to an American population more likely between 90 to 112 million people.  New estimates suggest by the sixteenth century, 80 to 100 million Indians were wiped out by the European smallpox.

Mann also presents evidence the Indians were not just Noble Savages living off the land; rather they were active agents agriculturally shaping the land.  Mann writes the Amazon rainforest is not wild.  Rather this wet desert is the remnant of a large, managed landscape.

The Native Americans were not simply farmers or hunters.

In 1100AD, at the mouth of the Mississippi River was the port city called Cahokia.  The largest concentration of people north of the Rio Grande, hundreds of high-peaked, deeply thatched roofs like those on traditional Japanese farms were built around a four-level earthen mound bigger than the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Further south, the Mexican Olmec developed a dozen different systems of writing, established wide trade networks, tracked the orbits of planets, created a 365-day calendar more accurate than the Europeans’ and recorded its histories in books of folded bark paper.  The Mexican capital of Tenochtitlan was larger than Paris.

The South American Inka empire was bigger than the Ming Dynasty in China, Ivan the Great’s Russia, the Ottomon Empire and the Triple Alliance.

The use of zero considered “one of the greatest single accomplishments of the human race” was first whispered around 600BC when the Babylonians tallied numbers in columns.  India used a zero in the first few centuries AD.  Europeans began using it in the 12th century when the Arabs brought it to them.

The first recorded zero in the Americas was in a 357AD Mayan carving.  Before that, a calendrical system based on the existence of zeros was used.

Seana Mallen’s painting is based on Edward Curtis’ photograph. Curtis’ life work was to document the tragic decline of the Native American peoples.

“Man did not weave the web of life.  He is but one strand within it.  What we do to the web we do to ourselves.  All things are bound together.  All things connect.”  Chief Seattle.

When we read the “sage” sayings of White Cloud and Chief Seattle, it is not simply the Noble Savage’s spirituality or mythology.  Their wisdom comes from millennia of experience and reflects the “remarkable body of knowledge about how to manage and improve their environment.”

I highly recommend 1491 to open your eyes to a new perspective on history.  It is not the easiest read but it is very interesting.

Currently on display during America Week, Seana Mallen’s paintings can be seen in the Seef Mall near the Starbucks.


Seana and Beauty Walk to the World Beat

"Beauty" by Artist Seana Mallen

Beauty is an invisible essence certain women exhibit as they walk through the messiness of life.  Whether in a crowded market or an elegant café, it is how these women light up the space around them even in the noon sun.

Rushing to my 10am yoga class, I opened the door into the World Beat Fitness Center’s sunny café when BOOM I suddenly found myself whirling in Seana Mallen’s universe.  Seana was swirling around hanging up her paintings for the opening of her In Celebration of Women exhibit this afternoon.

Dedicated to her mother, a breast cancer survivor, who “lit up a room when she entered it, both by her positive personality and by bright red lipstick” Seana’s exhibit draws upon her mother’s inner beauty and all the anonymous women who color her world.

Seana is truly an ARTIST with a real CV and commissioned works around the world.  How did an international artist end up in Bahrain? – like many expat wives, her husband took a position here and she accompanied him looking at it as an opportunity to travel, paint and educate.  Here her gregarious nature and love of energy and color has turned her life into one bright spotlight.

A gifted teacher Seana set up Awali Arts as soon as she landed.  Under her guidance, many of my friends have grown from primary school type sketching to artists in their own right.  But Seana doesn’t just focus on unemployed housewives; she volunteers her time around the world helping school children create murals.  Or you might accompany her on a travel holiday painting in India, Africa or Jordan.  Or you may take a cruise and take a watercolor class from her.  And if you pop over to my house, you will see the one of the many sets of commissioned family portraits she has created.

But the easiest way to meet Seana today and until November 10th is to go have a coffee at the World Beat Café and gallery.  Maybe you will even get the chance to meet this strong, funny, enthusiastic fire-cracker who inherited all these qualities from her mother.


Tales by Chapter

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