And So It Continues

Back in the far distant past the First People began leaving marks on the walls around them. Simple designs, sometimes no more than a scratch, perhaps signifying that they were there. We call these marks petroglyphs.

As time went on the marks grew more sophisticated, representing more elaborate concepts. Animals, human shapes odd to our eyes, strange swirls or repetitive parallel lines in a group perhaps indicating a river or stream. These were just a few of the shapes amongst thousands left on canyon walls, along stream beds, in caves, anywhere the people went.

The most important of the images they placed on the surface of their surroundings was the shape of the human hand, their hands, the hand of the individual making the drawing. This mark said here I am. I am a person. I am important. Know all of you that I have been here. These are known as pictographs if they are painted onto the surface of the rock.

Usually the images created were chiseled into the surface of the stone by hammering the design into the surface of the rock by striking it with another sharper more pointed stone, chipping away the dark patina of the rock leaving an indelible lighter contrasting representation of the design, a petroglyph. But occasionally a simpler more direct method was used. By simply placing their hands into a medium such as paint or even mud and pressing their palms against the stones surface they achieved the same result although a much more impermanent one, but the meaning was the same, a pictograph. Here I am, I leave my mark for you to see.

That type of image creating usually did not stand the ravages of time, especially if it was left exposed to the elements, but they are found in caves and other protected places looking much as they did when they were created.

We think of these kinds of images as something out of history. An art that served its purpose but has been replaced by newer forms of image creating. Yet it appears that is not totally the case. These handprints on the metal in the image above were left by the direct descendants of those First People just a few days ago at a place that is itself historically significant.

Every year along the banks of the Little Bighorn river there is a reenactment of a famous battle called the Battle of the Little Bighorn where General George Armstrong Custer and all the men of the 7th cavalry under his command were engaged by a superior group of Indians including chiefs Sitting bull, Crazy horse, Gall and others. The result is well-known as it was a critical victory for the tribes fighting to remain independent and self-sufficient. Custer and his men were decimated to the last man.

This year the reenactment of that fateful battle took place on the 23rd, 24th, and 25th of June, on the Real Bird ranch adjacent to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument near Crow Agency, Montana and included members of the Crow tribe and various groups representing the cavalry. Each side took great pains to be as true to the period as is possible today, with the cavalry in full uniform and equipment and the Indians in full regalia and paint with even their horses painted for battle.

So it was not surprising to see these modern pictographs placed at the site where the warriors of today watered their ponies and waited for the fighting to commence along the Little Bighorn river, near the ford in the river that led to that fateful battle site.  Somehow it’s comforting to see the continuation of these same handprints used today as they were millennia ago. Young men partaking in a mock battle yet still requiring their total participation both mentally, physically and spiritually. By creating these new pictographs they are saying, I too, am here. I am a Man. I am important. History and tradition is moving on through this time period as it has since the beginning. And so it continues.


The Rosetta Stone



While travelling the inner depths of Capitol Reef National Park we stumbled on to what we believe is one of the most significant finds in recent history as it relates to the progression of artistic skill in Anasazi rock art. This discovery is bound to shake the art world to its very core and set Art historians on a new path of understanding as to how the Anasazi went from being rock pounders to major artists.

If you remember your history you know that the smartest minds in the archaeology world could not begin to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics. It was like Chinese arithmetic, really hard and it made their brains hurt, so many just gave up, feeling dumb and ashamed. They just went home, defeated. It wasn’t until some lucky guy found this stone called the Rosetta stone that had three different languages on it translating the same off-color joke into all the other languages. If we remember correctly the languages were Greek, a form of Inuit called “Inuktitut”, and of course hieroglyphics itself. That made it easy. A group of guys and one woman made up of Greek, Inuit and Egyptian scholars soon had the hieroglyphics translated and now practically anybody can just pick up something written in hieroglyphics and read it like it was yesterday’s obits. Because that was what most hieroglyphics were, stuff about dead kings, kings that were already dead, kings that were about to be dead, people who wanted to be king but changed their minds because they didn’t want to become dead, and so on. The obituaries of the day.

So what does this have to do with the art world you ask. Plenty. People who study petroglyphs, Anasazi rock art, have wondered for years “Why didn’t these guys ever get any better ?” Look at any rock depiction of Bighorn sheep. They all look exactly the same no matter when they were created. For like a hundred years these Anasazi petroglyph makers never changed how they created an image of a Bighorn sheep, or any other subject for that matter. You would think with all that practice they’d have gotten better by accident. But they didn’t. They just hammered away in the same old style.

Then the image above was taken showing what was to become the Rosetta Stone of the art world. On this newly discovered rock panel you can see there is a petroglyph in the upper right hand corner of one of the Anasazi’s favorites subjects, an undefined lump or something, maybe the start of another Bighorn sheep that they screwed up and just abandoned, (there is no erasing in Petroglyphs) and this splendid but remarkable painting of foliage in the style of Monet, Renoir, Mr. van Rijn, O’Keeffe. This was a quantum leap forward for the Anasazi, as it showed that at least one of them got sick to death of painting sheep.

*The Institute immediately sent in its crack team of art historians, restoration-ists, and gawkers to secure this painting and to analyze how it was done. They have slowly been taking this image apart piece by piece, picking at it with sharp things, rubbing it gently with 36 grit sandpaper to see what’s underneath, asking themselves “How did they do it? How did these Anasazi’s go from no-talent rock chippers to this level of  sophistication without attending some prestigious art school?” The questions kept building the more they reduced this image to a mere shadow on the wall.

Some new facts were gleaned from this process. One was that the painting was done with brushes made of wooly mammoth hair wrapped onto a slender willow switch, and another was the paint was analyzed and found to be a combination of crushed berries which were used to create the Alizarin Crimson seen in the leaves, acrylic paint from the Artist Den, some off-brand oil paint of the type found at Hobby Lobby all bound together in a matrix of Toad fat. Our experts are still trying to come up with an explanation for the inconsistencies that this brings up, but these are smart people and they’ll come up with some plausible answers. After all their jobs depend on it.

While we are hard at work figuring out all this stuff so that you don’t have to, take a moment to study the image. See how wonderfully clear the artist created the leaves and stems. Look how every leaf conforms to the rock surface it was painted onto, yet shows the brilliant colors that make this image come alive. It ‘s hard to believe that this was painted 1100 years ago.

The Institute will be studying this image plus any more we find, to discover just what new stage in the art of the Ancients this led to. We’ll have those answers and more as this story unfolds. Stay tuned.

* Note: For those of you unfamiliar with The Institute and what it does, please see the page labeled The Institute on the Menu Bar above. That should explain everything. You shouldn’t have one single question remaining regarding The Institute after reading it. None. For those of you favored few who already know about the Institute, Nevermind. Return to your daily activities. Thank you for your support.

Spirit Cave


Those of you who have visited my portfolio on DxO in their Image Masters section  may have seen this photo before. For those of you who haven’t this is an image of seven warriors drawn on the surface of the stone and is located in a small cave at the top of a bluff in the foothills of Northern Colorado. It overlooks the plains below with nearly a 180° field of view.

It is a very special place and dates back to a time before the tribes acquired horses. Experts in these types of drawing speculate that these figures represent hunters or warriors because of the large shields they are carrying. After horses arrived the shields became much smaller so they were more easily managed while on horseback. These figures are petrographs rather than petroglyphs as they are drawn on the surface of the stone rather than etched into the surface.

As you can see there are seven figures represented and if you could visit this cave you would see that there is no way that seven people could fit into this space. It is difficult to get more than 2 or 3 people in there and that is a tight squeeze. So why seven figures? One can only speculate. Perhaps this was the number in the party that waited back in the safety of the rocks while the viewer in the cave looked for animals or enemies, or is a warning to others that he saw seven warriors below. Perhaps they were a raiding party and this was a regular path or trail they followed that could viewed safely from this cave.

To view these figures at all you must lie down on the cave floor as they are on a small ledge that forms the edge of the ceiling and are only 3 to 5 inches in height. The artist who created them had to draw them from a prone position. The seven figures are the only petrographs in the cave. The cave is a cool place to sit and watch out over the landscape below. Cool as in temperature, but also cool as in, cool.

While lying there attempting to figure out how the drawings were made and possibly why, I heard a small fluttering noise and turning my head discovered that I was nearly lying on the nest of this little wren. She was civil about it, quietly telling me to move over as she had to feed the young inside. Being a busy mom she was constantly coming and going usually with an insect of some sort in her bill. I could hear the young rustling about in the nest but couldn’t see them due to the shadows that partially hid the nest from view.


I was hoping to have a conversation with her about how long her family had been nesting in this cave and did she have any stories about the earlier inhabitants that may have been passed own from mother to egg but motherhood was making too many demands on her time so the conversation would have to wait.

This part of Colorado has an amazing amount of history attached to it and a person is constantly made aware of all the events that took place here. There are teepee rings, and Oregon trail wagon tracks, the occasional headstone signifying the loss of a loved one by those heading further west, stagecoach stops and outlaw dens, all the stuff you heard about as a kid is here if you know where to look and be observant. It is truly a photographers privilege to be here and more so to share it with you.


Rock Art Redux

RockArtRedux5729Ute Panel – Arches National Park


Way back in the winter of 2013 one of our field researches was trying to locate new and unusual features in one of our nation’s most celebrated National parks when he happened to stumble across this panel of really old Indian drawing. As you know The Institute is constantly sending out explorers, researchers, bill collectors, real estate agents, used car salesmen, pan handlers, reformed alcoholics, unreformed alcoholics, dentists, appliance repairmen, bible salesmen, airplane mechanics, mercenaries, ninjas, paranormal psychologists, dog groomers, and cable installers, anyone and anything we might make a buck on, to increase our revenue stream and to bring you new and interesting scientific discoveries.

What we’re really interested in here at The Institute is scientific material that we can exploit, because we live in an age where lots of people with money really like all this old stuff and will pay through the nose for any cool discoveries that they can vicariously partake of from the comfort of their barcoloungers. Besides this stuff really reads well on our grant proposals so we are in a much better position to get funded than say, some respectable stuffy old university or government program that has ethics and stuff and has to stick to the truth and facts to make ends meet. Unburdened by those sticky regulations we can easily produce really neat research that reads like a Indiana Jones novel and is difficult to refute without looking like an old stick in the mud professor or government stooge that has to do things correctly and is just mad  because our stuff gets published and made into movies. They’re always bellowing like a scalded hog when they find we’ve altered the facts to fit the story. Like anyone cares, except for some old academics and the scientific world at large. Last time I looked they weren’t making my Mercedes payments.

When our researcher discovered this panel of Ute Indian rock art he was overjoyed but excited because here was something he could really sink his teeth into. It was what they call a eureka moment in research-speak. A panel of historical value that he could claim discovery of because there was no one else there when he stumbled across it. The research was completed by some archaeologist a long time ago who had left a bronze plaque with his version of the events captured, and who probably didn’t know any more than he did about this thing, and besides he could make up a better story than that guy. And it photographed well.

What our researcher concluded was this was an event that took place sometime before 2013 and conclusively proved that the Utes had domesticated not only horses and dogs but the wily Desert Bighorn sheep as well. The activities shown in the artwork describe how the Utes, using nothing but their wits, horses, herding dogs, GPS, and BLM grazing permits would bunch up a herd of these Desert Bighorns and make them stand still for long periods of time. Why they did this is still up for debate (and the possibility of getting another grant to study the issue further) but it is likely they did it so the artist creating this image in stone, had time to work. They didn’t have digital cameras back then, this was the old days. They had to have everyone be very still so he didn’t screw up and draw it wrong.

The reason this post is called Rock Art Redux is our researcher found another panel, a previously secret undiscovered panel that nobody but us and now you, knows about, located a little further back on the cliff. Apparently someone, one of the sheep or dogs, moved. Maybe one of the Indians was goofing around and held his hand up with two fingers making the rabbit sign behind another guys head, who  knows, this was a long time ago. Someone’s always got to clown around when a picture is being taken. Anyway, they moved and the artist had to basically x everything out and start over. You don’t erase in rock art you just have to scratch it out and start over. Apparently those guys were real sticklers for accuracy.

The Institute doesn’t like to leave unanswered questions just lying about willy-nilly so we intend to study this problem more, at great length actually, or as long as we can milk the grant for our expenses, so you, our loyal readers get the real story or as close as we can get to it. Stay tuned.

Navajo Blackboard

Petroglyphs Monument Valley


Those of us who went to school when we were still using Roman numerals remember the teachers single largest teaching tool, The Blackboard. It filled the entire front of the  room and it was used from the first day at school when the teacher wrote her name on it in large flowing letters, ours was a “Miss Clarisse LaThong”, she was French if I remember correctly and I know I do, to the very last day when she wrote “Have a Great Summer!” in her perfect handwriting.

It was a surprise to me then when I found out that ours was not the only culture that used such a teaching aid. While traveling in the far back country looking for photo opportunities I found this remnant of a forgotten classroom tucked behind one of Monument valleys’ huge rock formations. It was in a small grotto-like area that was sheltered from the sun and wind for most of the day and probably held a dozen students and their teacher. The subject of the day seemed to be biology or perhaps animal husbandry as an illustrated portion of the study material still remains. It was amazing to realize that the Navajo were the first to come up with CliffNotes, a not so movable study guide to help the youngsters remember their lessons.

There was likely more to the days lesson than what we see here but due to the ravages of time portions of the blackboard have fallen away taking its message with it. It was comforting to realize that for years and years students had gathered here to learn their lessons before going out to spend the day herding the sheep they were learning about. I can see the young boys excitingly whispering amongst themselves about this new teacher that was going to be here this year as they left the classroom. I wonder what her name was.



p.146 Anasazi Midwife’s Manual

Birthing panel MoonFlower Canyon   click to enlarge


The Anasazi were really the most amazing people. Not only did they build a lot of neat houses, but they connected them with roads so they could go visiting and do trading and networking and other trendy mesoamerican stuff that was then making its way north. Lots of happening stuff was going on such as making Indian Jewelry, maize pounding, basket putting togethering, using sounds to form words so they could communicate with each other, it was a heady time.

Their really big thing though was the development of the art of petroglyphery, which as you know is the banging on rocks with another rock to make an image, kind of like a really slow copy machine. Although their images seem crude to us now it was the newspaper and digital photography of the time and it soon developed into a sophisticated method of imparting important information to one another. They would let others know who had visited for the solstice, what was happening in the neighborhood, who shot the biggest bighorn sheep, who was running for councilman, when the kiva services were, recipes, and Obits. It was a huge part of their lives.

As they became more and more knowledgeable they branched out into the arts, sciences, diplomacy (Don’t kill us and We won’t kill you), literature, and most importantly medicine. Medicine was really important to these people as they tended to die for little or no apparent reason. They’d just be walking along singing a song when suddenly, whammo, they were dead. This was alarming and they needed to find out the various causes of death, other than the obvious ones, like an arrow in the ear, or falling off the tops of one of their houses. They had to study what was going on. What little things were happening that they should have been paying attention to but weren’t that might make them cease to be, or dead.

This led to cataloging the various problems of their lives that tended to shorten them and when they discovered one of the these causes they wrote it down on one of their rocks. Before long there was a huge amount of medical data available to them. This is shown quite clearly in this petroglyph which has been translated by petroglyph translators as page 146 of the “Anasazi Midwife’s Manual”.

It clearly shows what we now know, is a Breech birth or as they called it in their early language “OhNoFeetComingFirstDamn” and the expectant father’s reaction to it. Breech births were considered dangerous because it was thought that the baby couldn’t see where it was going as it was coming and would therefore be clumsy and not quite right as it grew up. The other etched symbols are very likely spirit remedies and gifts left over from the baby shower.

Since this is page 146 we can conclude that were pages 1- 145 and probably beyond, maybe up into the three or four hundreds, that must have been filled with necessary, important, doctor kind of stuff. This is just more proof that early people were not as goofy as we had first thought. They had rich, vibrant lives with a strong technological base and were able to be successful in many of their endeavors. Sure you can say they screwed up sometimes, like when they went off and left perfectly good condos in a beautiful gated community to go raise neon tetras in the Amazon, but which civilization hasn’t done that.

We are just scratching the surface of the knowledge these short, squatty, little people had and finding out that they were pretty darn clever. I for one wish they were still hanging around. I’ve got questions for them and I know they had the answers. So I’m studying their messages and figuring them out. I’ll let you know when I learn something.

Art, What It Is

Petroglyphs   Monument Valley   Arizona                                                          click to enlarge


Here at The Institute we are all about Art. I mean ‘All About It’. One of the prerequisites of obtaining employment with us is you have to pass a rigid, difficult testing procedure where the prospective employee must be able to pick out art in its many forms wherever it may exist. No multiple choice questions here. They must be able to state “Yes that’s art and here’s why” and be able to write a short 800 page conclusion as to why they think it is art and how it fits into modern life as we live it today. If they can not do this or they choose something that is not art, like maybe a Jackson Pollock painting or anything that needs to be explained at length to be able to understand it, they are immediately rejected, foreheads stamped with a large red “Don’t no Art”  and sent to seek employment with the government or some other soulless place that is primarily decorated in grey.

But that’s not the end of it, no sir, for their final test they are sent out into the world at large with the instructions to find ‘Art’ and bring back proof that it exists. We prefer the actual piece of art itself, that we then keep carefully stored in our climate controlled Art bunker, but on the rare occasion that the prospective employee cannot bring it back due to legal restrictions, or fear of being shot while trying to remove the art, we will accept photographic proof that there is Art there. Photographs must be unaltered and show enough of the surrounding areas to document that it is not ‘Fake Art’ drawn by the prospective employee, or Art copied from a book, or a post card set up on a rock some place to fool us. We know all the tricks, any funny business and it’s off to the government employment office for them.

Recently we had a very good prospect that passed with flying colors all of the testing we could throw at her and as one last hurdle she was sent out into the desert with nothing but an 85 lb. pack and a point and shoot to find art. Her only failing was she took our instructions a little too literally and tried to bring back the carving and most the rock slab it was on. The image above was found on her camera when we went through her personal effects. We can only surmise that her judgment was clouded by her hallucinations and lack of proper hydration. Lesson learned here, don’t try and deface art on public property or tribal lands. It is sad to lose the possibility of a good employee and we marked her application “Passed with Honors” and “She really knew Art but was a little weak on tribal law.” Her application is tacked up on our jobs available bulletin board as an example for all of our employees to emulate, without the defacing part, that is.

Although these requirements may seem harsh to those reading this, we must reiterate that Art is all, and consequently the price we pay for art can be high. But what that means for you, our loyal readers, is that you can rest assured that any images you see here are actual pieces of Art, original, unedited except for maybe some Photoshop stuff we do to make it look better, and best of all free. So enjoy, folks have paid a very high price for us to be able to bring you, Art, in all it’s glory.