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On the Move

Packing up my ENCULTURATED WHITE MAN/You Are On Indian Land exhibit into a 26 foot U-Haul over the past winter gave me flashbacks to the last time I worked that hard loading all my “stuff” into a 26 foot U-Haul. The last U-Haul event was with my husband at the time, so many years ago. We were moving from Algoma, Wisconsin to Magdalena, New Mexico. New Mexico was our dream as artists but it was going to take a bit of fortitude and determination. Following is a recall of making that dream happen.

Tamara Ann Burgh

SUNDAY — 4:00 pm, June 21, 1996

GRUELLING (gru’el-ling) — a 26′ U-Haul packed with 100 tons of stuff, two cats, towing a car trailer and two artists across 4 1/2 states totaling some 1700 miles

After three and a half days of squirreling most everything intended into a too small great big yellow truck, my husband, Douglas, and I are ready to say good-bye to Algoma almost 12 hours later than planned. Three very hard weeks of packing, finishing sculpting jobs, sorting, a giant garage sale, trashing, “on second thought I need that” untrusting and cleaning has exhausted us. We are looking forward to simply sitting, sightseeing, and steering for four days or 1500 miles, whichever came first. Silly us.

The night before our ETL, in our empty home, we watch the tail end of the Olympic opening ceremonies. Lyrics to one of the songs by Gloria Estephan, “… when you think you can’t do it, you do!” proves, at least to me, inspiring over the next few days.

26 feet of truck and another 20 or so feet of trailer, we fear the turns. After finally leaving Algoma and saying a not so tearful good-bye to the midwest, we count only six turns across and down five and half states to our home in Magdalena, New Mexico. Silly us. A few short miles down the road we double-check the trailer where the cats are in the car set up with beds, food, water and a cat box. I envy them. The trailer is okay and although the cats look stunned, we expect them to be just fine. Silly us.

Eleven miles down the road, in Casco, the truck’s Service Park Break light comes on and stays on for the next 300 miles despite attempts to turn it off.

SUNDAY — 8:00 pm

We stop south of Madison, WI at a rest stop for a picnic and check again on the car passengers where we find the normally adversarial cats hovered together IN the cat box. Annie still likes us and comes out at our beckoning. Grits, her stress level affecting her judgement, pees missing the box and draining over the edge onto the carpet floor.Tummies full and rested I take charge behind the wheel with fear and trembling. At 35 MPH Douglas says to me, innocuously as possible, “You can go faster if you want to.”

SUNDAY — Midnight

For several hours I have been tested with road construction, fatigue, narrow passages lined with concrete blocks or ravines, uneven lanes, dust clouds, sudden stops, rough roads and tolls. While I drove Douglas intends to sleep but can’t with my constant declarations of “Oh, shit!”. Time to look for a hotel.

“Don’t pull in until you know you can get out. There’s no backing up.” “Nonsense,” I think pulling up to the motel parking lot, “Every motel has a turn around.” I drive all 46 feet of us into a lot with, unbelievably, no turn around.

“I can back up!,” I boast sleepily. “What’s the big deal!” It becomes a big deal for the awkward pivotal point gives the car trailer a mind of its own. Back and forth, back and forth, maneuvering yards of axles inch by inch the rumbling of our diesel engine waking every patron in the place. The motel owner moves his car — courtesy or fear of me flattening it like a pancake? 45 minutes later and we are finally out of there. They didn’t accept pets anyway.

MONDAY — 1:00 am, June 22, 1996

We find a truck stop with plenty of turn around and tolerance for pets. We park next to the big guys to catch a few Z’s.

Can’t sleep so we check the manual under “Service Park Break”. It is STRONGLY suggested the operator take heed as the break could suddenly engage while in motion. Great! 200 tons of stuff suddenly catapulted over our heads.

MONDAY — 2:00 am

We call 1-800-GO U-HAUL and within 20 minutes a mechanic smelling of gas and grease arrives but the “Service Park Break” light fails to show up.

“It was on! 500 miles! We swear!”

He has a crazed look about him and I wonder if he would look that way at a decent hour and a lit “Service Park Break” warning light. He goes home and we rookies decide to have breakfast with the veteran truckers albeit it’s still the middle of the night.

Revived on full stomachs, a gallon of caffeine and peace of mind with a darkened warning light we drive into and through the dawn.

It’s a dogged day through Ioway needing to stop often at rest stops which become stay overs tending to cats as well as ourselves. Thinking the cats would welcome fresh air and exercise, they claw at our backs while we struggle to leash them then run after as they make a beeline to the farthest bush lined edges. They are terrorized by cars, trucks, noise, people, dogs, crickets, daylight, falling leaves . . . It’s no wonder I have never in my life seen a cat at a rest stop. Most cat owners know better.

At an average speed of 45 MPH, hilly terrain and frequent stops it takes an eternity to cross Iowa. The day warms up and cats are brought into the air-conditioned cab along with their pillows, blankets, food and water. The passenger must sit with feet in the litter box.

MONDAY — 5:00 pm

The four of us are exhausted. Cat Grits can’t stand from thirst and fatigue. Maybe too many “it will do you good” walks. She is pissed and won’t drink or eat. We take an exit promising lodging outside Council Bluffs.

The exit takes us down a steep hill we know must be laboriously scaled again in the morning as we haul back up 300 tons of stuff. We suddenly find ourselves on a busy rush hour business district with no promised motel in site and only a small grocery lot large enough to turn in to escape the traffic madness. In extreme stress, much like Grits the cat, we imagine having to wait until late evening and an empty lot.

“Just when you think you can’t, you can  . . . ”

Douglas maneuvered truck and trailer around cars and agitated people finally exiting a busy entry while I stood in the middle of the street holding back traffic. I see lips mumble profanities. “Hey,” I want to yell, “You’re not hauling your house in the trunk!”

We chug our 400 tons of stuff back up the hill. Having, by now, long overshot our six turn maximum, we are getting hardly anywhere agonizingly slow. Our new mantra: “We will stop ONLY if the hotel AND its lot are visible from the highway.” Good luck with that.

A few miles later the Rath Hotel accommodates us with few patrons and enough asphalt to bury Council Bluffs. We re-Christen it The Wrath of God Hotel. The cats couldn’t be more pleased thinking we are finally “there”. No, it’s just Omaha.

A Ma & Pa car repair/restaurant/”antique” shop sits across the street. We have a North Platte potato casserole for a meal and, silly us, buy an unusual pair of S&P shakers for only $3 to add to our 500 tons of stuff.

TUESDAY — 11:00 am, June 23, 1996

After 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep, we board the huge yellow truck on day five of our allotted eight. And it’s just Omaha. “The Long Long Trailer” movie with Desi and Lucy comes to mind. We assure ourselves the good roads of flat Nebraska will help our time. We do, indeed, increase our speed average to a blinding 60 MPH. The roads are relatively smooth and the cats are finally able to rest without their little heads shaking like the dashboard bobbing head madonna. The trailer echoes every bounce jarring us in turn, thus, we feel every bump twice. The cat, Annie, whose life, till now, needed us only to keep her box clean, food available and door open upon request; hugs my lap with her head in my hand attempting to keep her brains from rattling loose and falling into her neck. Grits wedges her head between blanket and seat with her feet pushed against Douglas’ side. “Aw, she loves me,” he says. “No,” I think letting him believe his sentimental notion. “She’s tying to stay the hell on the seat.

We drove into a pounding thunderstorm with strong winds but we avoided stopping in Nebraska until absolutely necessary. It became absolutely necessary. At a rest stop, in the rain, I shoved cats aside and pushed through pillows and blankets and stepped over the still dry cat box to run to the restroom to find the women’s side closed. I reached deep into my memory bank to my assertiveness training classes in Algoma and found the muster to use the men’s side. We are off with everyone repositioned in the truck in less than five minutes.

The only other Nebraska moment is a jammed door lock we fix with a Swiss army knife. Who needs a crazed gas fumed mechanic when one has a Swiss army knife?

TUESDAY — 9:00 pm, Sterling, CO

The air has lost its humidity and we are beginning to smell New Mexico. The change in climate has aroused the cats for we return from a late dinner to find them out from their usual hiding place under the seat now hanging out on the dash looking out the windshield. Maybe they think we’re ‘there’. Silly them.

We decide to drive straight through the day and night to our new home in Magdalena wanting to end this olympic time trial. I am anxious to sit in a stationary chair and watch REAL Olympians trained to tax their bodies, brains and emotions. I try not to think about the job ahead unloading our 600 tons of belongings junk. My arms and legs are littered with bruises and my fingers are still swollen Kielbasa size from lifting a gazillion 100# boxes of books. Beneath the bruises my arms have gotten buff — well, buffer. “See my muscles,” I say to Douglas flexing as the mile markers slowly drift by. I need more sleeveless tops I think to myself.

WEDNESDAY — 2:00 a.m., June 24, 1996; Rest stop north of Colorado Springs

Having bee-bopped to the oldies and eating Jelly Bellies to stay awake, we cozy in between two big rigs to get some rest. The cats, however, are waking up. I steal their pillows and blankies and settle into the car which smells of catnip, to get some sleep. Douglas has been suffering from a leg cramp but finally falls asleep between cat fights in the truck cab with his head over the cat box. The inevitable happens. Both of them. They emptied three days of bowl thinking possibly we were finally ‘there’. Somehow, somewhere, just outside Algoma this trip became about them.

We dump their dump and move on through the rising sun. Coasting south and downhill to New Mexico, my initial 35 MPH timidity three days previous has become a GET OUR OF MY WAY! aggressive 65 MPH allowing the downhill momentum of 700 tons of non-essentials push us on. We’re making good time until the 7,834′ Raton Pass on the Northern border of New Mexico. “This wasn’t here the first time we came down (looking for a house)!” 45 MPH, 35 MPH, 20 MPH, 10 MPH — 200 yards from the summit. People pass snickering, gawking. Yep, we are going to pay for overloading, stop and roll back down. Good thing we had our park break serviced. My heart beats again when the top is finally reached only to have it race on the roller coaster ride down. What was that we told our Algoma neighbors? After all the hard work proving their, “You’ll never fit it all in there” warnings wrong; we looked forward to the four days of scenery gazing. Silly us.

Five hours to go we stop to feed the yellow gas guzzling monster and caffeinate ourselves with the help of an unfriendly attendant in the middle of a nowhere mountain desert. I need all available space to exit the station and have to wait for a young blonde woman and female companion to pull out of the lot. The blonde is driving a red and white 60’s Rambler type station wagon towing a small boat and trailer with South Dakota plates.

There are huge distances between towns dwarfing our block long two story rig, but we love the 360 degree horizon. The refreshing vastness gets the focus off of ourselves. We pass the exit for Cimarron wondering where in the world it could be out there. A couple of days later a tornado would take that exit and devastate the town we never saw reducing homes and the Post Office to kindling. After the storm mail was found across the countryside. It was the first tornado in thirty years.

We cruise past Santa Fe where we hope to spend lots of time in the near and distant future. Right now we just want to get through Albuquerque and home. Unfortunately we have to compete with another rush hour and some of the worst driving we have witnessed anywhere — ever. On the other hand maybe it’s not them, it’s our extreme fatigue and slo-o-o-o-o-w reflexes. When we believe our fatigue can be challenged no more, a traffic jam. Damn! We come to a creeping pace for miles until we finally approach the problem. The blonde woman in the red and white station wagon with South Dakota plates has stalled on the shoulder with the rear of her boat and trailer blocking the right lane. Too bad for her but I am suddenly desperate for a functioning rest stop — men’s okay — New Mexico having too few for weary travelers. At last, 12 miles north of Socorro a rest stop posted with warnings of rattlesnakes. Fine. Bite Me.

In Socorro we are at the U-Haul drop off an hour after hours and we can’t go home as we are driving a Big Rig and can’t turn around on our dead-end street until we shed the trailer. Contemplating our situation we talk each other up and past our fatigue, “We can do it. We can do it. We can do it . . . We can unload the car and back the trailer into that little space!” Meanwhile the Saints of Truckers conferenced and intervened in our favor for the U-Haul Guys showed up!

One, two, three and the trailer was unhitched, the car unloaded by two Hispanic brothers. Either as a macho move or angry for showing up when they had other plans, one brother drove all we owned at mach speed demolition derby style around the lot. “Hey! we have a lot of nice things in there!”

Grits christened our finally ‘being there’ by peeing on my jeans.

Two days later the truck whose yellow will forever symbolize grueling to me, was empty and returned to the brothers. We had way too much to fit in our temporary home but it didn’t dampen our joy at walking an arroyo under the bright sun anticipating many new and wonderful experiences.

As we heard over and over during the Olympic Games, reaching a goal and having a dream requires focus and determination. Nestled in a valley between blue mountains and light flooding our home and studios, we could begin our new journey — to pursue our art with serious joy. It wasn’t about the cats after all.

 

 

 

 

You Are On Indian Land

Finally, after two holidays, mother’s birthday, moving mother to a new facility with better care, cleaning up the mess left in the garage from the manic construction of 30 shipping crates and the house of the thick dust of sawdust that travelled from the garage for the construction of 30 shipping crates, I am able to post about the exhibition at the Museum of Northern Arizona, YOU ARE ON INDIAN LAND which I was privileged to have been a part of with the entirety of my project The Enculturated White Man: If Early America Had Embraced the Nobel Savage.

YOIL_Logo

The museum’s introduction to the exhibit found on their website http://musnaz.org/features/youareonlindianland/:

From the Comprising a range of materials and processes, You Are On Indian Land addresses issues of post-colonial acculturation, cultural appropriation and social dissonance. Photography, assemblage sculptures, installation pieces, and video work create a visual dialogue and critical perspective on Indigenous art while actively engaging the notion of pop-culture, misappropriation and stereotypical representation through powerful and thought-provoking work.

It was my responsibility to get the work from my home in NW Arkansas to the museum in Flagstaff, Northern Arizona. I was so looking forward to the trip with the help of my friend, Virginia who generously gave a week of her time away from a new job as Director for the local DRESS FOR SUCCESS.

DSCF3180

Virginia Germann

Originally hoping I could fit the work in a U-Haul trailer towed behind my truck. As the number shipping crates increased in size and number and filling the garage, I became increasingly overwhelmed with the size of U-Haul required to ship the project out west. Towing? Impossible! Finally, it was only going to fit in the largest truck and even then, with interpolation, four of the boxed work had to be stowed on their sides.

Tamara Ann Burgh

Locking up the truck

My anxiety over the weather during the three day trip through the often treacherous midwest (several months earlier in the year, in May, traveling through Oklahoma, I had encountered numerous blinding rainstorms and two tornados; one I knew was coming and the other viewed in full form over my left shoulder). My weather map showed light rain the first day, doable, with sun and those little wavy lines the other two days. Those innocuous little wavy lines, in reality, were gale force winds the length of Oklahoma, across the Texas pan-handle and the width of New Mexico. These were winds so strong it took the two of us to hold open the truck door on gas and coffee breaks. Over the east mountains pass into Albuquerque we encountered pouring rain, sleet, snow and the relentless wind. Our third day of travel into Flagstaff was a beautiful sunny welcoming gusty-only winds drive

We arrive early afternoon on Wednesday with the opening scheduled for Friday at 6:00 pm. Lots to do.

Tamara Ann Burgh

Arrival at Museum of Northern Arizona with curator Alan Petersen, Amber King, and Independent Curator Erin Joyce

Tamara Ann Burgh

A fraction of all the crates in the gallery and ready for unpacking

DSC_29

Unpacking the work.

Tamara Ann Burgh

Preparing the banners for the two that hang on the wall.

Tamara Ann Burgh

Two wall pieces with banners.

Tamara Ann Burgh

A view of some of the installed work.

Install_View_2

Installation view

Install_View_3

Installation view

Tamara Ann Burgh

Installation view with two pieces also shown by artist Chanupa Luger.

Tamara Ann Burgh

Museum of Northern Arizona Director and CEO Carrie Heineken, Me, and Curator Alan Petersen

The_Artists

Artists from left to right: Steven Yazzie, Cannupa Luger, Michael Namingha, Tamara Burgh, Nicholas Galanin

From the museum’s website: Curated by independent curator Erin Joyce and the Museum’s Fine Art Curator Alan Petersen, YOU ARE ON INDIAN LAND features work by Tamara Ann Burgh (Eskimo), Nicholas Galanin (Tlingit/Aleut), Ed Kabotie (Hopi-Tewa), Cannupa Luger (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara and Lakota), Michael Namingha (Hopi-Tewa), Steven Yazzie (Navajo), and interdisciplinary arts collective Postcommodity, which includes Raven Chacon (Navajo), Kade L. Twist (Cherokee Nation), and Cristobal Martinez (Chicano).

Also from the museum’s website:

“The exhibition looks at themes of liminality, reclamation of representation, and misappropriation of Native cultures,” said Joyce. “It examines not only the idea of indigeneity, but also what it means to be a Native North American artist working in non-traditional mediums.”

“Viewers will be compelled to reconsider their understanding of ‘Indian’ art,” said Petersen.

The title of the exhibition, inspired by the 1969-1971 American Indian Movement occupation of the island of Alcatraz, looks at the idea of contested landscapes in American, revised treaties and cultural imprisonment. The exhibition debuted at the Radiator Gallery in New York City and was mounted later at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Art in Santa Fe in May.

Tamara Ann Burgh

Talking to members at the opening reception

Tamara Ann Burgh

Talking to members at the opening reception.

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Enculturated White Man

EWM_04 Snakes and Tulips
129 1/2″ X 28 1/4″ X 18 5/16″

This piece is fourth in the series titled THE ENCULTURATED WHITE MAN: If Early America Had Embraced the Nobel Savage Instead of Trying to Destroy Them. The entire series can be viewed in the show YOU ARE ON INDIAN LAND, at the Museum of Northern Arizona beginning November 21.

Museum of Northern Arizona

3101 N. Fort Valley Road

Flagstaff, AZ 86001

The entire series can also be viewed at present on my website THE ENCULTURATED WHITE MAN.

The photo, the focal point of all the pieces in this series, is a found garage sale photograph of an unknown person seemingly taken early 20th Century. I altered the photo with color pencil by giving this person American Indian attire; as if he had embraced the Native American culture.

EWM_04-SnakesTulips-CU1-WP copy EWM_04-SnakesTulips-CU2-WP copy

Enculturated White Man

EWM_04 Snakes and Tulips
54″ X 33″ X 21 1/2″

Enculturated White Man

EWM_04 Snakes and Tulips
Altered found turn of the 20th century photograph. silk and cotton thread embroidery, buttons, silk ribbon, fur, silk, and cotton material

I chose Plains Indians-like dress and motifs for this man. I liked the original photo for his expression that suggests to me a man that would be comfortable with face paint, a top knot in his hair and layers of earnings.

Some years ago I was traveling a highway looking into the bright circle just above the horizon thinking it was the setting sun, but realized I was facing East and in my rearview was an equally large disk also just above the horizon. If it weren’t for the compass in my car, I would not know which was the sun and which the moon; the sun and moon were equally large and equally bright. Some time later I heard Joseph Campbell (THE POWER OF MYTH) speak of this phenomena and it’s mythological meaning for some indigenous people. He stated the sun and moon facing one another may symbolically represent the peak and balance of a person’s life. The sun, representational of the ego, and the moon, representational of feeling and intuition, are in perfect balance and equal power. Between the sun and moon represented in my piece shown here is the land between the two planets and on the land is fire (ego, aggression, power mongering) and tulips (quiet, peace, beauty). The man in this photo appears to be in top mental and physical form and, I assume, in balance with his emotional life.

I am interested in the lizard, snake and dragon as symbols of the fire of life. Life, like the dragon, burns and destroys. The horror is the fact of life eats on life for survival. I am fascinated with the Discovery Channel series “Naked and Afraid” for this reason. The program regularly cuts to snakes in the survivors’ path to intensify the drama of their search for water and animals to eat. The snake slithers in hidden places hunting food; the snake is, after all, just an intestine, the heat of its belly digesting other life forms. The man in this photo, framed by snakes, seems to know this but has reconciled emotionally with this cruel but necessary fact of life.

Mounted to the top of this frame are three posts supporting a badger skull. The badger is also a fierce animal and appropriate for the theme of this piece, that is “life eating life”. I was living in New Mexico when a friend of mine told me of a recent kill of a badger (possibly by her neighbor) she found on her property. I took it and buried the carcass in sand on my own property and let it set for critters to eat and clean the bones. Several months later I retrieved the skull and teeth which now crown this art piece some ten feet in the air.

With this body of work, THE ENCULTURATED WHITE MAN, I not only referenced mythical images and beliefs, there were times when I felt I was directly experiencing them in my own life.

copyright Tamara Ann Burgh all rights reserved, 2015

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The Enculturated White Man

EWM_03 Bug-Duck and Turtle
77 5/8″ X 26 1/4″ X 18″

This piece is third in the series titled THE ENCULTURATED WHITE MAN: If Early America Had Embraced the Nobel Savage Instead of Trying to Destroy Them. The entire series can be viewed in the show YOU ARE ON INDIAN LAND, at the Museum of Northern Arizona beginning November 21.

Museum of Northern Arizona

3101 N. Fort Valley Road

Flagstaff, AZ 86001

The entire series can also be viewed at present on my website THE ENCULTURATED WHITE MAN.

The photo, the focal point of all the pieces in this series, is a found garage sale photograph of an unknown person seemingly taken early 20th Century. I altered the photo with color pencil by giving this person American Indian attire; as if he had embraced the Native American culture.

The Enculturated White Man

EWM_03 Bug, Duck and Turtle
15 ” X 9 1/2″
Found photograph altered with color pencil with fabric and needlework matting.

The original found photo in this piece reminded me of Teddy Roosevelt, the president I think of as the advocate of America’s park lands, nature, Indians and overall natural wonder of America.

The turn of the twentieth century was a time of new sciences including the natural world and Darwinism (Chas Darwin, 1809-1882). I think of museum drawers filled with pinned bugs from around the world and animal taxidermy and skulls. With that in mind I chose to embroider a Rhinoceros Beetle in single strand silk with beads below the altered photograph. The duck skull (probably a Wood Duck) was brought to me from out of the woods by my Chow dog. I was flabbergasted by how delicate yet how intact the skull was, and how gentle my dog was in retrieving it for me.

The translucent shells on the top and bottom of the shrine were once a precious lampshade of my mother’s. Even though the shade was broken, she reluctantly “donated” it to me for a “higher purpose”. Translucent shells for the shrine are natural elements but remind me of the sacred as in a church’s stained glass windows.

The hawk feathers in the tassels are either Red Tail or Coopers I retrieved off the ground from walks in my wooded neighborhood.

The Enculturated White Man

EWM_03 Bug, Duck, Turtle
35 1/8″ X 25 1/2″ X 14″

copyright Tamara Ann Burgh all rights reserved, 2015

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EWM_02-WeazleTail

This piece is second in the series titled THE ENCULTURATED WHITE MAN: If Early America Had Embraced the Nobel Savage Instead of Trying to Destroy Them. The entire series can be viewed in the show You Are on Indian Land, at the Museum of Northern Arizona beginning November 21.

Museum of Northern Arizona

3101 N. Fort Valley Road

Flagstaff, AZ 86001

The entire series can be viewed on my website THE ENCULTURATED WHITE MAN.

The photo, the focal point of all the pieces in this series, is a found garage sale photograph of an unknown couple seemingly taken early 20th Century. I altered the photo with color pencil by giving this older caucasian couple American Indian attire; as if they had embraced the Native American culture especially for what appears to be a special occasion, perhaps a wedding anniversary. The gentleman is making an effort but the headdress has slipped behind his ears contrary to proper placement — over the ears.

The weasel tails are from my own experience trapping ground squirrels (for food and parka construction) in with my Aunt Maggie in Alaska back in the late 70’s. Weasels were raiding the moose meat in the shed so I trapped and skinned them.

WeazleTails_1

The Enculturated White Man

EWM_02 Weasel Tails
There is quite a lot of embroidery in all the matted photographs in this series. Much of it is single thread silk or cotton embroidery like the Indians on horseback above the photograph seen here.

copyright Tamara Ann Burgh all rights reserved, 2015

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Enculturated White Man Exhibit

Fifteen years after I set the first color pencil to a found early twentieth century photograph, the body of work (16 pieces) titled THE ENCULTURATED WHITE MAN: If Early America Had Embraced the Nobel Savage Instead of Attempting to Destroy it is coming to a finish. The work has been invited to to an exhibit in Flagstaff, AZ this November; details to come. During the following weeks I will be showing the series. A description of the work and my thoughts that inspired the work can be found on my website pages The Enculturated White Man.

The Enculturated White Man

EMW_01: 90″ X 27 1/2″ X 16 1/2″ Polychrome wood, color pencil on found B&W early 20th c photo, feathers, needlework, abalone shell, shell, sticks, twine, copper wire, cotton fabric, cotton velvet, buttons, gold braid.

It is difficult to get a sense of the scale with the above picture but the piece is 7 1/2 feet tall. The work is all done by me: color pencil drawing on found photo, needlework matting the photo, frame construction and carving and construction of the stands. This piece was inspired by Northwest Coast Native American Tribes.

The Enculturated White Man

EWM_01, Found early 20th c B&W photo altered with color pencil, carved polychrome wood, abalone shell, shell, twine, cotton, feathers, sticks, cotton material, cotton thread, silk, buttons

The Enculturated White Man

Found B&W early 20th c photo altered with color pencil by the artist, cotton threads, silk threads, cotton fabrics, buttons

copyright Tamara Ann Burgh all rights reserved, 2015

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Mom Has Dementia

Dementia

Mom Has Dementia, 73″X 62″, 2015, oil on canvas This painting will be a part of an upcoming exhibition at Studio C Gallery LA. See http://www.studiocgalleryla.com “Water-line: Inspiration for Change”.

I have been looking after my mother for several years and have posted quippy FaceBook updates on mom’s progress with dementia; posts being usually short, usually funny things she’s done or said. Her dementia however is now beyond my ability to manage and is not so funny anymore. Yesterday, for example, was so bizarre the retelling requires more than a tweet or FB post; it is a chapter in a book on “How to Loose Your Mind Taking Care of a Patient Who’s Lost Theirs”. Here’s what happened yesterday, but first some background events:

Mom was in a nursing/dementia facility last month for a couple of weeks while I got some rest. This facility was highly recommended and I looked forward to the time off especially after all the hoops one must jump through to have a patient admitted to such a facility: paperwork, proof of income, doctor’s appointments for orders, medical history, prescriptions filled, written needs, insurance papers, packing with all clothes and possessions labeled. The staff at the nursing facility was fabulous though the old building seemed a bit overcrowded. Mom had a roommate who regularly soiled her bed and made quite a mess, and, according to mom, messed the bathroom. There was a lingering oder in the room when I dropped mom off and the TV droned with an irritating grainy screen, laugh tracks and nonstop chatter of 60’s era sitcoms her non-communicative roommate apparently watched all day long. It made me sick to leave mom there but I stealed my emotions against her pissed-off-ness and quickly got myself out of there to avoid any begging on her part to take her back home. I did not rest easy during my at-home vacation, especially when a facility staff member called to say they had misplaced mom for a while until they found her under a table with table-cloth hiding from the nurse who mom was convinced was trying to poison her with pills. When I picked mom up I was more emotionally tired than when I dropped her off two weeks earlier. So much for respite care.

Mom has not always been a respecter of persons. Over the years I tried demanding more consideration for me and gratitude for my efforts on her behalf. A few times I really bawled her out but it never seemed to take. My “too-long-for-FaceBook post” today begins with another attempt at teaching and demanding respect from my mother who has late stage dementia. Trying to modify a dementia person ‘s behavior is a fool’s errand.

The madness yesterday began with me promising to take mom to town for garden plants and a book she wanted (she wouldn’t tell me what book it was. Never mind she can’t read anymore). Once she was washed, combed and dressed she was ready to go and ready to go right now. She also made a point of saying she did not want to live at “that place”. Last week I had taken her to a beautiful Nursing Home facility to meet the staff and interview as a place for her long-term. Unlike respite care she would have her own room in a home atmosphere with her own furniture and only 10 patients per home with a beautiful garden patio decorated with soothing chimes and colorful bird houses. I hoped to never have to take her to a “that place” but her dementia needs have forced the decision especially her chronic UTI’s that will create havoc in a dementia mind i.e. delusions and paranoia.  I have secured a room at “that place” for later in the month. I have been conflicted as to whether I should tell her ahead of time or surprise her one day taking her to her new temporary (?) home after a day at adult day care. In other words, do I torture myself by telling her or betray her by not telling her until we drive up to the facility. The later Is cruel but the better of two hopeless choices. I reponded to mom’s concern by telling her I already did the paper work and she will be going to “that place” later in the month. My words would determine the madness to come but, at the same time, sealed my emotional steadfastness that I am doing what’s best for both of us by placing mom in a home, for awhile at least. Telling her this turned mom’s smile upside down and we crossed the threshold into a three-hour snark fest and battle of wills.

I appealed to mom as my mother by saying I am tired and need a break. I saw in her eyes that she wondered, tired from what? I told her that I don’t know what to do anymore about her habitual need to wash and salve her crotch (sorry, readers, but vaginal itching and other unseemly body issues are a major part of elder care). I repeated I did not know what to do about it anymore and when I remind her of the nurse’s instructions; one being she’s drying that area out by over-washing; she insistsed we don’t know what we’re talking about. Again I asked her to have just an ounce of compassion for me and my needs. Of course she wouldn’t consider it. I told her we were not going to town unless she treat me with some respect. If she said something nice, respectful or compassionate I would reconsider taking her to town. I guess my instructions were not specific enough because I was not about to get an ounce of satisfaction. I was simply NOT going to win.

Mom has sneaked to neighbors in the past telling them I was holding her against her will or was going to burn the house down. She pleaded with one neighbor with early onset dementia to call the police on me. He did. She has also set off the house alarm and when the alarm service called to check, she cried out in the background, “Help! she’s beating me!” I’ve jerry-rigged the front door, covered the alarm button and disguised the garage door opener to keep her from running to neighbors. Yesterday, mom, now in a sour mood, wanted to go outside and check on the garden. She can’t figure out the front door so I open the garage door so she doesn’t have a melt down and doesn’t see how I de-jerry-rig the front door. Even though she was angry with me I really thought she would stay in the yard checking out the garden. While she was outside I made a smoothie for myself. Several minutes later I received a text from my neighbor. “Your mom is here.”

The neighbor tells me that mom told her I was planning to take everything out of the house to sell it, that I was going to sell her jewelry for $300. She said I was also carousing with drug dealers in that boat on the lake because they have been there for a while. I have a great neighbor who patiently tried to tell her that it was unlikely I was going to do these things. I whisked mom out of the neighbor’s house and back home but she would not come in, instead she acted as though she wanted to get into the car, driver’s side. Seeing me, she shimmied up the drive and down the street back to the neighbor’s. “She’s not there anymore,” I called out, “She’s gone to work.” Mom turned back then past our drive and on down the street. I grabbed my smoothie still in the blender container and followed her a few steps behind. She started up the drive of another neighbor. “You’re not going to their house,” I said blocking her way. “These are my friends, not yours.”

“Well,” mom replied, “when I tell them about you, they won’t be your friends anymore.” Dementia or the real mom? Like I said, not always a respecter of persons, me included. Mom had regularly, pre-dementia (?) resolved interpersonal conflict with retaliation by gas lighting via an unaware third-party. Fortunately now third-parties immediately see the dementia and don’t believe her story.

Mom “respects” my block up the neighbor’s drive. If they were home they must have been baffled by mom’s and my long silent standoff at the base of their drive with me drinking a pink concoction from a large blender container. Mom finally turns and continues walking up the street away from the house. Eventually a car drives by and she tries to flag it down. OMG! she’s trying to hitch a ride! While she steps to the middle of the street flagging the driver down, I am behind her trying to wave him off. One guy finally stopped for her. He’s confused while she asks him for a ride before I step in to say we’re okay, she’s trying to run away and has dementia.  My usual reluctance and compassion for her feelings in using the word “dementia” in her presence has completely shut down. I don’t care anymore.

Mom who normally can’t walk around the block has, by now, walked a good half mile flagging at cars and asking a guy carrying jerry jugs of gas to his car if he were a fireman. Of course he’s confused and, unlike me, humored by this goofy old woman. “No,” he says, “I’m mowing the lawn.” She wants to know where the fire station is. I tell the guy all is okay, she has dementia and is running away. Mom insists she’s not running away and parks herself in the middle of the street with cars coming in both directions. I tug at her sleeve to get her out of the road. She pushes me off demanding I get off of her. I wave the cars on who clearly are witnessing a domestic conflict and not sure what to do. I smile and wave them on carrying my empty blender container. Drivers reluctantly drive on. I make a mental note of the jerry-jug guy thankful that I have him as a possible witness to mom’s dementia induced queries in case another observer reports me to the authorities.

We are 3/4 of a mile from home and I finally offer her a trip to town if she would turn around. She’s red-faced and tired but I sure as hell am not going to flag down a ride home for her. To my shock, she turns around and heads home leaving passing cars alone. It was a slow walk and she struggled but we made it home and I told her to get in the car while I grab my purse.

Driving out of the neighborhood she suddenly says she doesn’t want to see the doctor on the hill but the one farther down. Oh, Jeez, now what? “Do you think we’re going to the doctor? I thought you wanted to go to a bookstore and garden shop.” She replies, in that oh so irritating snarky voice, she wants to do all three. I know she is obsessing about her itchy crotch right now. Last month she was convinced she had a hole in her bladder leaking urine into her bloodstream and insisted the doctor’s’ nurse (up the hill) sew it up. No can do. Mom no longer likes that doctor’s office up the hill.

“Today is Saturday,” I tell her. “The doctor offices are closed. We’ll go to the garden shop.” She’s exhausted but won’t admit it. At the garden shop the owner says it is a couple of weeks too early to plant with frost warnings still predicted. Thank heaven. For the rest of my life I will remember the garden shop owner fondly for that simple statement because I knew as soon as we got home with plants mom will insist in that oh so snarky voice that we don’t have enough and have to go back. For mom, enough is never enough. I told her we will come back in a couple of weeks (she will be in the nursing home by then) and suggested we get something to eat.

We had a glorious hour of peace over lunch at Chilis. The waitress disappeared for long periods of time but my usual impatience was overtaken by relief for the long peace. I gave the waitress a nice tip when under normal circumstances she would have been penalized for her disappearing acts. Mom was too tired to eat much and passed the offer to go to the nearby bookshop. Another reprieve as she was surely going to ask a clerk for help in an incomprehensible way, the clerk flustered with a real desire to help and after finally finding something, it will be a book we have or one she can’t read. Mom refused to tell me ahead of time what book she was looking for as I am too controlling and have to have everything my way.

Today while I write this, mom has washed her crotch at least four times in the last few hours. Contrary to the nurse’s directive, she aggressively washes like a Victorian parlor maid scrubbing the soot from a marble stair. Yesterday and today any reluctance to place mom in the nursing home has disappeared without a trace even if she spends weeks hiding under a tablecloth over a table convinced the nurse is trying to poison her. I shall not be moved and the move-in date won’t come soon enough. With the help of neighbors and a friend who has been through it, encouraging me, I am managing, sometimes barely, the madness of dementia care. My once dignified mom has done a lot for me as her daughter but right now I cant remember them.

copyright Tamara Ann Burgh all rights reserved, 2015

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