Over the Threshold

Tipis outside the Buffalo Bill Historical Cent...

Tipis outside the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming

As I sit at my workstation poised for my morning writing session, I review my notes on Ganesha from the first session of Writing Your Practice. I am searching for an inspiration. I read what Susanna spoke about the Ganesh concepts: “You have everything you need, create from your own resources. Move through the thresholds that present themselves. Embrace Change.”
I grew up in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Tipis are a part of my heritage. Indian blood flows through the veins of my personal lineage, if not my mothers or fathers of this lifetime. The evidence of this has surfaced repeatedly throughout my life and I embrace this part of who I am.
When I considered how to house the seminarians who would be coming to Mountain Valley Retreat, tipis seemed like the perfect solution. I purchased three 20’ canvas tipis. As the retreat took form, I “saw” where the tipis would sit and I realized that in the east we would erect the “men’s lodge.” In the west would be the “women’s lodge” and in the center of the property, the “children’s lodge.” These directional placements align with the corresponding positions on the Native American medicine wheel.
The artwork of tipis has always fascinated me. Native people used the tipi hide to tell their personal stories. The designs of the tipis were the province of the women in the tribe. Dreams often inspired the paintings as well as personal power animals and significant exploits and experiences. Medicine shields and elemental allies would also find their way to the canvas of the tipi.
As I dreamed about the tipis I was putting on our sacred ground, I felt a responsibility to respect the lineage of this ancient art form. I felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the canvas I had before me, let alone the task of designing and painting the murals. I decided to begin with the women’s lodge…I had to start somewhere.
I made calls to try and locate a “real” artist to commission or at least assist me as I felt unequal to the task at hand.  I also noticed there was a resistance to bringing in outside help.  I kept moving forward, doing what I could to prepare. I read books and looked at tipi art. I watched for tipis when I traveled. I looked through paint color pallets and chose colors I was drawn to. I thought about what I wanted to represent on the women’s lodge. I asked for dreams of inspiration and they came.
I got my boyfriend to help me carry one of the tipis into our newly constructed yurt, a 30’ diameter, 706 square foot round structure that is our large meeting space. Laid out on the floor, the tipi has to be folded in HALF to fit inside the yurt. Holy shit! This really IS a huge canvas! For two weeks it lay there as I looked at it and wondered what to do next. I called my friend Star and she came and looked at it with me. I told her what I dreamed it would look like and we spent a day searching the internet for images and making sketches. She made some full scale sketches and I planned to have her help me with some of the actual painting.
As I stood looking at the canvas one evening I thought to myself, “I have ten people coming for Thanksgiving. I need places for them to sleep. I can’t keep looking at this blank canvas…it is time.” I went out early the next morning with tools in hand and penciled in the phases of the moon around the top. With a brilliant blue I filled in the back ground sky. It went much quicker and easier than I had feared.  It was beautiful!  The ice was broken.
I knew I wanted to represent our land around the base with earth colors and rather than a brush I used a sponge to get a three-dimensional effect of the mountains. It worked and the sponge method was much faster than the one-inch brush I had used on the moons.
I was undecided as to whether to fill in the night sky above the moons but the sponge worked so well I decided to put a North Star above the full moon and  fill the rest with a field of stars on blue.  I ran out of blue paint just as I finished. I love validation!
The “easy” part done, what remained were the drawings of two red-tailed hawks, a medicine woman, a wolf, a raven and some large pine trees.  No more sponge painting…
Last night I sat on the canvas with several drawings around me and began sketching a hawk. When I finished, I realized that I am the artist I was seeking. I can do this. I am doing this. I have walked up to a threshold, met my fears and stepped through to the other side. Today I will paint the red-tailed hawk, messenger from the gods.tipi moons and north star

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