As I approach my 76th birthday, I feel like it’s time to do something with my life.
I’ve just finished doing some research on Fritz Scholder . . . kinda did a rewinding of the memory tape, hitting the stop button around 1964-65 and then punching “start” to relive or recall the days spent at IAIA.
It was only natural that I would hit the pause button at my first meeting with Fritz . . . Why? Because that’s when I started my journey . . .
I got off the bus with literally nothing more than the clothes on my back and my Gibson acoustic. My luggage (1 suitcase) got lost somewhere between Lancaster CA and Santa Fe NM. Thank you Greyhound bus company.
A Californio stranded in the middle of old Spanish adobe town elegance . . . Indians sitting the Plaza selling trinkets and such . . . Sangre de Christo Mountains to the east Pacific Rim somewhere out west toward setting sun.
I got rousted by the border patrol when I got off the Greyhound in Needles CA to take a leak.
Border Patrol: “You got some I.D.?”
I pulled out my Cali drivers license . . . didn’t have photos on them back in ‘64.
Border Patrol: “Where you going?”
Border Patrol: “What’s in Santa Fe?”
Going to art school.
Fortunately the bus driver got back and started the bus and I had to get back aboard . . . ironically, the fucking BP man was a Mexican, Latino or some brown skinned Hispanic person, and I guess he thought I was an illegal countryman sneaking out of California with a guitar case full of weed heading for parts unknown. Couldn’t he tell that I was peau rouge?
“Profiled” before before the term became a part of the urban vocabulary . . . by a member of a south of the border minority population no less! WTF?!
I was wearing Levi’s, plaid Pendleton wool shirt, t-shirt and Purcells . . . high SoCal fashion straight out of Surfer Magazine . . . IAIA dress code at that time was Levi’s cowboy boots (Tony Lama) western cowboy shirt with round white shell top metal snaps not buttons and a black Stetson cowboy hat . . .
Oh SHIT! They were “lndians” . . .
Now I’d been to a few rodeos back when I was growing up in Owens Valley, there were a few “cattle” ranches scattered through out the area, so I was aware of cowboy fashion, but to see honest-to-god Indian “cowboys” was almost too much for my soul. Talk about culture shock!
Remember this was back in 1964 and as far as I was concerned the earth was still flat . . . only other transport I’d had was via train from Mojave CA to the City by the Bay . . . then sometime later I flew to Mexico and saw the curvature of the earth and realized why most everyone back in 14th Century thought the earth was like a map laid out on a table . . . flat . . . no AeroMexico or Lufthansa, they only had paper hot air balloons and you didn’t want to get too crazy in those cos they might catch afire and parachutes were only in DaVinci”s sketch books . . . somewhere.
Where was I . . . oh yeh, stuck in Santa Fe NM with all them Indian cowboys and a hundred years of Catholicism, penitentes and the blood of Christ . . . and Fritz Scholder . . .
When I was a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), Fritz was my 2D Design instructor, and then later I was tapped to be in his studio painting class.
How that came about I’m not sure, because not too many people were in his “studio” class . . . when my girlfriend found out that I was moving into Scholder’s “studio”, she said, “He asked for you to be moved to his studio?” Surprise, shock? I don’t know . . .
Anyway, after my one year stint at IAIA I went back to California.
I saw Fritz again in Beverly Hills where he was having a gallery exhibition of his paintings and prints after his rise to “fame” around 1970. At the time I was working for the U.S. Postal Service married and studying printmaking at UCLA.
I won’t say that we were friends, more like associates, peers based on our common knowledge of painting beyond the Bambi School genre and kitschy curio shop souvenirs. Fritz was my mentor . . . in Japanese I would have referred to him as my senpai, my senior.
Fritz came into the studio one day and stood by me, he said, “Are those your brushes in that coffee can?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Which ones do use the most?” I picked out two . . . He said, “Give me the can.” Fritz took the can, walked to the trash bin and dumped the remaining brushes in, then walked back to where I stoop and handed me the empty can. “Learn to use them.” And with that, turned and walked out leaving me holding two brushes and the empty can.
Hmmm . . . reminded me of Katsushika Hokusai, who when asked why he only had one brush, responded that he was still learning to use it.
Fritz and I had a lot in common . . . the two of us were Indian/Not Indian . . . We both knew we were Indians, but were both well integrated into the dominant Euro-American society. I say “society” because there is no American culture, Euro-American or otherwise.
Well, time to wheel the trash bins out to the curb . . . Ciao.