Nothing New

 Or what makes us think this is an original idea?

If you fly into DC or take a ride up to the Washington Monument’s Observation Deck or you happen to fly a drone over the National Mall before the end of this month, you will see a gigantic eyeball anchored in a slice of a male face staring up at you.


Seen from the eye level of the average visitor, this gigantic portrait fashioned of black dirt and sand, looks like any Iowa farm field during spring planting.


Before last summer, I would have marveled at contemporary man’s creativeness. That is – until I look at the pictures we took of the numerous effigies created by Native Americans and their ancestors centuries ago, scattered across the U.S. – especially in the Middle West:

  • Effigy Mounds National Monument near Harper’s Ferry, Iowa where I journaled, “Hiked along paths to see bear effigies. Very humid, sweaty, but beautiful views (of the Mississippi.)”
  • Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site near St. Louis.
  • Poverty Point north of Pioneer, Louisiana. In my journal for that visit: “Dan napped while I found our way to Poverty Point – along narrow, long, lonely back roads. Met only two vehicles in twenty miles. Saw my first ever bear-crossing warning BearSignsign: Glad we went – in spite of the rain – good learning experience and more writing ideas. Have learned lots about pre-Indian dwellers.”

So here we are again, thinking this is a new idea – how expressive – how original when much the same thing has been brewing right under our collective noses for centuries. Several interesting questions come to mind:

  • Why did the ancient peoples do this huge amount of work? It took lots of man/woman power filling baskets with dirt, carrying them to the effigy location over and over and over…to create the shape of a bear, bird, bison, turtle, or lizard or whatever else in need of recognition . Some were used as burial sites for the deceased. But mostly the reason for doing this is —- a big mystery. As for the Washington DC site, the artist (commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery, BTW) says he wanted the work to represent America, so he blended faces of young men from many racial backgrounds. Which begs the question – why not a composite of young women? I see some national controversy brewing here with NOW.
  • How can your average tourist or ancient person anchored to terra firma ever get to see the “big picture”? Only in your dreams or maybe you are hoping some intelligent society out there in the universe scanning for intelligent(?) beings will zoom in on our pics. Wasn’t there a big hoopla several decades ago about a so-called scientist who published his “research” in a book titled In Search of Ancient Astronauts and then admitted it was all a hoax?
  • So what happens to these works of art over time? The ancient people’s mounds and effigies were unfortunately mostly overlooked by pioneer farmers anxious to plow those fields and plant that crop and what the heck is this big lump of dirt doing in my way? The one in DC? At the end of this month it will be plowed under, that portion of the National Mall reseeded with grass,. Memories  and photos will be all we have left.

Any other ideas out there for interesting art on a large scale?

2 thoughts on “Nothing New

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