Monday, December 21, 2009

Maidu Indian Lore in the Work of Whollem

Concow Maidu Cultural Elements in
the Earth Paintings of Eric Whollem

The earth painting entitled "Anima and Animals" shows the
personification of Imagination, my muse, holding a lizard and
a coyote in her hands. The face of Imagination is black, having
been painted with the soil of Black Earth Village, or Chi Chi Te,
the traditional name of the old Mooretown Rancheria, where I

Anima and Animals
earth, clay, ash & charcoal in casein on panel
by Eric Whollem
Collection of the artist
Copyright by the artist.


The lizard is Usbuki, the Great White Lizard. Adrian Smith,
former head of the Butte County Tribal Council, told me that
Usbuki is the warrior power. Each warrior at his initiation takes
on his own Usbuki. Legendarily Usbuki combats Henokano,
the trickster, otherwise known as Coyote.

The Great White Lizard is said to dwell in the Middlefork
Canyon of the Feather River behind the cascading waters of
Feather Falls. These falls are second only to Yosemite Falls
in height.

In many Native American traditions, the Great White Lizard
is Dream Maker. Anything you dream  (or daydream)  about
will come to you with the help of the Great White Lizard.
The Lizard will also help you with troubles in your dreams.

Man and Bird
earth paints in casein on panel
by Eric Whollem
Collection of the artist.
Copyright by the artist.


Bob Jack, the Maidu grandfather, was born in the old village
site near the falls. I was caretaker of the house he built on
the rancheria after his passing.

I also lived in the small house of Herb Young, a traditional
singer and "doctor" (or shaman). The foundation stones of
this structure were old Indian acorn mortar stones protectively
shoved in place under the house, which was built in the style
of the logger families' shacks from Mooretown,  the local
company logging town.

Herb was directly related to Lily Baker, the master basket-
maker of Taylorsville.

Herb's dog, Fido, outlived him and. although blind, continued
to walk the road in Feather Falls, visiting people up and
down the ridge. I painted numerous images of Fido. Fido
came to socialize when Lily visited Chi Chi Te one day.

The Old One
earth and charcoal in polymer emulsion on plywood
by Eric Whollem
Collection of the artist
Copyright by the artist.

In the old houses on the rancheria there used to be large
collections of swing and classic jazz on 78's--plus old
handcranked victrolas. Bruce Lee's collection of old Model
T's down in the buckeye patch added a unique ambience
to Black Earth Village. Often in the evenings you could
hear hillbilly singing coming up from Frank Jones' place.

I often painted outside under the old walnut tree. Once when
I was rather young and foolish I was working on a wooden
sculpture, so I took up a saw and cut what I thought was a
scrap. Bob Jack, holding up his damaged tool for me to see,
came out and laughed at me. I had cut his T-brace, for
cutting firewood.

I used to drive up to Camp Eighteen to gather soapstone
for carvings. Soapstone was used for medicine bowls by the

It was my highschool friend, Robert Steidl, grandson of Bob
Jack, first invited me up to Feather Falls. He is an excellent
bead craftsman with a talent for soapstone carving and painting.
His mother, a storyteller, was the one who asked me to help
caretake the old homestead. I used to go mushroom hunting
with her and her sister.

At family dinners we all sat at an antique table in the Big House.
Later I painted an earth painting of The Last Supper, which hung
near the old table. Musicians, basketmakers, painters, and some
very good cooks were among common visitors to Chi Chi Te.


have painted Kuksu and Morningstar, the Adam   
and Eve of the Maidu. I painted legendary Maidu
characters like Oankoitupeh and Piuchinnuh. I
drew and painted Pano, the Bear. I painted Sumi,
the Deer. Sumi is the friend. The Turtle is Ultrama.
Koi is the sacred goose, whose magical song is the
wuh-wuh song.

I painted also Wonomi, the Earth Initiate, or World
Maker, as well as the realm in which he lived, called
Histayami. I painted the flowerlands of the Maidu
heavenworlds: Yongkodom, Hipiningkodom, and
Kakinimkodom. A herd of white deer are said to
dwell in the valleys of Histayami.

The Kakinim are the spirits. This word relates to the
better known Hopi word, Kachina.

I frequently have depicted insect Kakinim as insects
are very special spirit messengers, not just to the
Maidu, but many California Native Americans.

Song of the Turtle
earth pigments, iron pyrites, and charcoal in polymer emulsion on panel
by Eric Whollem
Collection of the artist
Copyright by the artist.

I painted a number of long poles at Chi Chi Te. I used
my earth colors. Painted sticks are an old tradition, now

The earth of Chi Chi Te is quite dark, it being an ancient
Indian midden, as the village had  been  occupied for 3000
years. The pigment near the old sweat lodge site is as
black as coal, it being darkened by centuries of campfires.

The insides of people's homes, or kum, used to be painted
with designs drawn in acorn meal paint.

The Roundhouse
earth paints in acrylic emulsion on paper
by Eric Whollem
Collection of the artist
Copyright by the artist.


Ralph Martin, who I met originally at a grass game in Bald
Rock, built a roundhouse in the Feather Falls area. This
roundhouse is called a a Hemeni.

Ralph's Hemeni was built using hand hewn cedar beams and
cedar bark shakes, all natural materials. A large smokehole
is in the center of the roof. Cousin Lorraine told me that when
one enters the Hemeni one must first honor the center post,
then walk in a circle around the inner perimeter, in respect
for those who might be present.

The Hemeni is used for sacred dances, song, and sacred

In the old days people used to paint their bodies with
earth  paints for the sacred dances.

Ralph Martin lived for a time just down the road from me
at Frank Jones's place. He and Vergil were the last two
native speakers on the ridge.


I have included the Roundhouse as an important theme of
my art, especially as it relates to the Dream Lodge of
the Kuksu. The Maidu religion is based on the Dream
Society. Dreams are a source of wisdom and knowledge.

Oroville, California, is the place where a the Dream Society
first began for California Indians. Siltamona is name of the
Maidu village that was the Oroville of Indian times.

The Kuksu Dream religion travelled from the Maidu of Butte
County to the Pomo, Cato, Miwok and Wintun Indians,
native groups spread as far apart as Yosemite Valley and Mt.

Shamanic Figure
earth paints  in casein on panel
by Eric Whollem
Collection of the artist.
Copyright by the artist.

Adrian Smith told me that Mt. Shasta is called Kom, or Snow.
The mountain figures in important traditional legends concern-
ing how the people were brought back from captivity, and of

how playing the grass game saved them. This legend is the
basis of respect for the sacredness of the grass game among
the Maidu.

John Smith told me that in the old days the Captain (chief)
was always decided in dreams. He who could see and do the
most in his dreams was considered the most able leader.

There are different orders of shamans among the Maidu.
Adrian told me that everyone has a certain special skill
or knowledge. The Yeponi is the Captain, the head doctor.
Lesser shamans are initiates of the Dream Lodge. A dream
is netdim.  Almost everyone is a dream doctor. The bear
doctor specializes in healing.  The snake doctor is good at
games like horseshoes, good at throwing things. One who
has his personal Usbuki is a warrior, a brave initiate.


These matters have served as food for my artistic
imagination, and are reflected in  my drawings, paintings,
soapstone carvings, ceramic sculptures, and silkscreen
prints since 1971. I lived at Chi Chi Te off and on for
different lengths of time until 1999.

The video below tells more about
Concow Maidu
influences in my art:

A video by Eric Whollem, 2011


In 2010 I created a series of fantasy stamps for 'Maidem Kodom,'
which means Maidu Country. Such stamps are referred to by
stamp collectors by a variety of names, including 'artistamps,'
'cinderella stamps,' 'faux postage stamps,' etc.

stamps from Maidem Kodom
by Eric Whollem

There have actually been stamps issued by Native American Nations,
but these have not been postage stamps, but hunting permit stamps.
The Rosebud Sioux Reservation was the first Native American group
to issue their own stamps.

The stamps of Maidem Kodom, of course, have no postal value, but
are artistic creations. Below is a small selection of some of my designs.

by Eric Whollem
copyright by the artist

Read more about my stamps from MAIDEM KODOM on these posts:

See my posts about the Maidu Indians on this link:


Maidu Culture Video.                                      


Kuksu Video                                         

See more about Feather Falls on this link:

Those interested in my use of Earth Paints may want to see:


Earth painting video.                                        

To view my gallery of Ceramic Sculptures check out:

For general articles on Shamanism see this link:


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