Tag Archives: history

Elizabeth Peratrovich, We Can Do It

Apayo Moore  Acrylic  2014

On July 4, 1911, a great American hero was born in Petersburg, Alaska.  Her name was Kaaxgal.aat.  She was of the L’ukwaax.ádi clan in the Raven moiety of the Tlingit nation. Her passion, perseverance, and tenacity led Alaska to become the first state or territory in the nation with an anti-discrimination act.  Although I’ve seen many articles stating New York was first, The Alaska Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945 pre-dated The New York Human Rights Law by nearly a month.  It was signed on this day, February 18, 1945.

Orphaned at a young age, she became Elizabeth Wanamaker when adopted by a Presbyterian minister and his wife.  She went on to marry Roy Peratrovich, whose mother was Tlingit and father was Serbian.  Together, they formed one of the greatest civil rights power couples of the 20th century.  Roy became the mayor of their town, Klawock, and later held other positions in the territorial government.   They each became Grand President of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood, respectively.

When they moved to Juneau to seek more opportunity after they both received college educations, they were met with racial discrimination.  They were unable to find adequate housing in an appealing neighborhood due to “no Native” policies.  Signs on local business read “no dogs and no Natives allowed.”  Like so much of this country at the time, discrimination was blatant and wide spread.

In 1941, Elizabeth Peratrovich petitioned the territorial governor, Ernest Gruening, to ban “No Natives Allowed” signs.  The Anti-Discrimination Act was defeated in 1943.  In 1945, their fight continued.  It was at this time Senator Allen Shattuck, who opposed the bill, said the following.  “Far from being brought closer together, which will result from this bill, the races should be kept further apart,” he said. “Who are these people, barely out of savagery, who want to associate with us whites with five thousand years of recorded civilization behind us?”

As the Grand President of the Alaska Native Brotherhood, Roy was asked to give testimony in front of the senate.  Roy testified, “Only Indians can know how it feels to be discriminated against. Either you are for discrimination or you are against it.”

When he was finished, time was allowed for anyone else to give testimony.  Legend has is it that Elizabeth put down her knitting and asked to speak.  She was the last to give testimony.  By all accounts, she was composed, confident, and extremely persuasive.  Her most powerful words though, came indirectly from Senator Shattuck.

“I would not have expected,” she exclaimed, “That I, who am barely out savagery, would have to remind gentlemen with five thousand years of recorded civilization behind them of our Bill of Rights.” She then went on to recount the discrimination she and her family faced.  When Senator Shattuck asked if she thought the bill would eliminate discrimination all together, this was her reply.  “Do your laws against larceny and even murder prevent those crimes?  No law will eliminate crimes, but at least you legislators can assert to the world that you recognize the evil of the present situation and speak your intent to help us overcome discrimination.”

When she concluded her testimony, the chamber broke out in thunderous applause.  The bill passed the senate and was signed into law.  It would be nearly 20 years before the Civil Rights Act took the same steps for the country as a whole.

Elizabeth Peratrovich died at the age of 47 of cancer.  In 1988, Alaska began to officially recognize February 18 as Elizabeth Peratrovich Day.  Her husband, Roy, died nine days before the day was officially celebrated.

To see the actual bill, click here: Alaska Anti-Discrimination Act

To read an in depth article by Dave Kiffer on the subject, click here:  Sit News

Apayo Moore is an Alaskan artist of Yup’ik heritage.  While continuing her education in Colorado, she became aware and gained more understanding of how Pebble Mine threatened her subsistence lifestyle in her home village near Bristol Bay.   She uses her artwork to educate and spread awareness about the possible destruction of her traditional way of life.

This painting is, of course, a riff on J. Howard Miller’s  traditional We Can Do It poster featuring Rosie the Riveter. Like Rosie, Elizabeth flexes her right arm while holding up her sleeve with her left hand.  While they both have a similar hairstyle held back by a red bandana, Elizabeth Peratrovich’s bandana and the red shawl around her shoulders includes a traditional representation of Tlingit art.

Instead of a plain yellow background behind her, a variation of the Seal of Alaska.  The boats on the water have been replaced by an oil rig.  The blue waters are muddied with black oil. A bulldozer full of dead salmon takes the place of the farmer and horses.

A variety of white staked signs dot the landscape.  They list names of Native Alaskan court cases against the state of Alaska and the Department of Natural Resources. Most prominent, HB77, is known as the Silencing Alaskans Act, which stripped the Alaskan people of their right to have any input on how their natural resources were used.   It passed in April of 2017.


To learn more about Apayo, please visit her website here: Apayo Art

For more information on how to help protect Bristol Bay, please click here:  United Tribes of Bristol Bay

To learn more about HB77, watch this video: Silencing Alaskans

**Description of painting:  A yellow background.  In the foreground is a Native Alaskan woman.  Her black hair is bound in a red bandana tied at the top. The red handkerchief has a row of black stylized bird head outlines around the top. Her grey earring dangles from her right ear. The front of her hair peeks out beneath the bandana in a twisty curl on her forehead.

Her right arm is flexed, she makes a fist.  With her left hand she lifts up her black sleeve to reveal her bicep.  Around her shoulders is a red shawl with a large Tlingit bird depiction.  Near her neck is a very small button that says Pebble Mine with a red line through it.

Partially obstructed from view is the State of Alaska seal as described above.  A large blue text bubble above her with white text reads, “I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of savagery, would have to remind gentlemen with 5,000 years of recorded civilization behind them, of our Bill of Rights.”  Elizabeth Peratrovich.

The painting is signed in grey in the lower left corner, Apayo 2014.**

**Description of Seal of Alaska:  A circular design of mountains, water, and farmland.  The yellow sun shines behind the mountain and reflects on the water.  In the foreground, a farmer plows a brown field with two horses.  On the water, two ships.  To the left, tall green trees with a white building.  Behind them, a train and a smelter.  Around the circle is a grey border that reads “The Seal of the State of Alaska” and has a small black and white drawing of a salmon and two seals.**






Queen Victoria in Her Coronation Robes

Charles Robert Leslie  Oil on Canvas  1838

“Farewell best beloved, here at last I shall rest with thee, with thee in Christ I shall rise.” On this day, January 22 of 1901, Queen Victoria died.  She was 82 years old.  Her reign as Queen of Great Britain, Defender of the Faith, and Empress of India was 64 years.  Until very recently when Queen Elizabeth II reached her Sapphire Jubilee, she was the longest reigning monarch in British history.  The above quote is inscribed above the mausoleum door that is the resting place for both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

I’ve always loved to learn about royal families, and Victoria and Albert rank just below Henry VIII and above Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in my obsession.  Victoria and I have in common our shorter stature, although for once I’m slighter taller than someone.  I also always imagined we shared similar personality traits, as many of portraits show a stern expression that I read as logical, precise, and no-nonsense.

We also now share the nearly unendurable grief of the loss of a partner at the young age of 42.  I used to find her seclusion after Albert’s death intriguing and romantic, but I never thought she lost her ability to lead without her partner.  I now realize she didn’t lose her abilities, she simply lost her will.  And although I don’t stand at the head of an empire that never sleeps, I can certainly relate to her withdrawal.  She and I are more alike than I had imagined.

This portrait was painted shortly after her coronation in 1837.  She kneels at the altar in Westminster Abbey in her coronation robes. Her hands are crossed over her heart in preparation to pour her soul into her country.  Her eyes are lowered in a sense of solemnity.  The luscious gold fabric engulfs her small frame, as many envisioned the task as monarch would similarly engulf her.  Her critics were wrong.

Learn more about the reign of Queen Victoria here:  Queen Victoria.

Charles Robert Leslie showed an ability for art at a young age and left Philadelphia to study in England.  His most well-known works are scenes from great literature, like Shakespeare and Moliere. He was also a writer himself, as he wrote a biography of arguably the greatest (if not, certainly most beloved) English painter John Constable, and was also a prolific letter writer.

This painting is located (fittingly) at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  See its listing here:  V&A







Andrew Brandou   Acrylic on Wood Panel   2007

On this day in 1978, November 18, over 900 people died of cyanide poisoning administered in an act of “revolutionary suicide.”  Many were under duress.  304 were minors.  None were given a choice.  Today is the anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre at the Peoples Temple in Guyana.

Jim Jones considered himself an “apostolic socialist.”  After meeting criticism in Indianapolis he moved to San Francisco.  There, he gained public and political support. In 1976 he moved his cult to the English-speaking but far left leaning Guyana.  “Jonestown” was billed as a “socialist paradise.”  The Peoples Temple Agricultural Project was formed.

Paradise it was not.  The members were required to work long hours of hard manual labor as the soil was poor.  There wasn’t easy access to clean water.  Days were spent working, watching and listening to communist propaganda, and listening to a near constant broadcast of Jim Jones himself over the town’s speakers.  And you could not leave.

As family members and friends back in the States got more and more worried, an investigation was launched.  Senator Leo Ryan led a group of his staff, media, and members of a concerned relatives group.  After days of negotiation, Senator Ryan was set to return to the States. He stated that his report would be mostly positive.  However, he had with him 14 defectors.

The health and particularly mental health of Jim Jones had declined.  This investigation and the defection of his followers sent him down an even more dangerous, but probably inevitable path.  As he was apt to record himself, the “death tape” details what next transpired.  One of the “defectors” was a plant.  Senator Ryan and four others were killed.  Nine others were wounded on the airstrip.  There was no chance for Jonestown now.  No one would survive.

In addition to those five killed at the airstrip, 909 died at Jonestown– two by gunshot wound, the rest by ingesting a combination of Flavor Aid and cyanide.  I am opting to not describe the acts of adults toward children or any other further description.   The details are disturbing.  You can listen to the tape and hear the adults talking calmly while children scream.  I don’t need to describe it to you, you can look that up.

This painting by American artist and illustrator Andrew Brandou is so creepily haunting.  It’s part of a series entitled “As a Man Thinketh, So He Is,” which depict several different scenes at Jonestown before the massacre.  You can see the entire collection here.  As a Man Thinketh.

Brandou paints in a style similar to old children’s books.  They remind me a lot of the Little Golden Books, which I think is partly why I find them disturbing, but somehow beautiful at the same time.  This painting, Medication, shows a variety of animals queuing up peacefully to their death.  I think this is an illusion to Jim Jones’s so-called “rainbow family” and his integrationalist ideals.

A mother cat with a screaming kitten, an elderly dog glancing nervously at the already fallen bodies of his comrades, a vixen nurse looking determined to complete her job.  A hare looks behind him to a bear with a gun.  The bear seems to be the only one smiling.  Interestingly, Jim Jones himself isn’t present in this painting, as he is represented as a lion in the rest of the series.  Possibly an acknowledgment that he himself didn’t die of poison, but an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.

One has to wonder if this could still happen today in this world of constant communication.  But then I think about all those that blindly follow what a talking head tells them, regardless of the absurdity or improbability or down right immorality.  There may never be another day when so many people physically drink the proverbial Kool-aid, but people drink in poison every day.  Turn off the constant propaganda being broadcast non-stop.  We don’t have to listen to that voice.

Learn more about the artists of Jonestown here:  Jonestown Art





Reem Nazir  Oil on Canvas 2010

Over two million Muslims will begin the Hajj this evening.  One of the Five Pillars of Islam, the Pilgrimage to Mecca is one of the most important events of a person’s life.  It is required of all that are physically and financially able the make the journey at least once.

The highlight for many is the Tawaf, the circling of the Kaaba.  The group of thousands together walk seven times around the structure.  This harmonious circumambulation  symbolizes the unity of the people as one in worship of the One God.

The large cube-like structure in the middle is the Kaaba, the most sacred Islamic site.  When Muslims around the world stop to pray, it is toward the Kaaba they are kneeling.  Part of the granite structure is the Station of Ibrahim.  It’s said that the impression of Abraham’s feet are there from where he stood during the construction.

There are many different theories and legends about the Black Stone that is located on the Kaaba.  Some believe the angel Gabriel gave it to Ismael, son of Abraham, to put on the temple.  There are amazing stories ranging from it being a meteorite to the remains of the angel from the Garden of Eden turned to stone when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit.  Touching or kissing the Black Stone is an important aspect of the Hajj, as the Prophet Mohammed ﷺ kissed it when he saw it.

The large fabric that is draped over the Kaaba is the Kiswah.  It’s a beautiful embroidered piece made of silk and stitched with gold.  It is draped only one day a year during the Hajj and a new cloth is created each year.

This painting by Reem Nazir shows the Kiswah being lowered as the pilgrims walk around the base.  I love how it shows it mid-process, with the lowering ropes visible, as well as the back side of the fabric.  She shows a surprising amount of detail in the embroidery, as well as the small objects hanging in the foreground.

Reem Nazir is a Saudi Arabian born artist, but has lived and worked around the world.  She paints a wide range of subjects from landscape to portrait to still life, all of which are known for their bold color and heavy, layered palette knife work.  Without a doubt, my favorites come from her series entitled Hajj Journey Through the Ages, which includes 43 paintings.  These works were based on historical photographs and first hand accounts from Hajjees.

To learn more about this series and the artist, please check out this interview:  Reem Nazir

The Tawaf is just one segment of the Hajj.  Please learn more about the journey.  Sending peace and love to those making the journey this week.




Entry into the City

John August Swanson  Acrylic   1990

Today Christians celebrate Palm Sunday, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem of Jesus.  He and the Disciples are journeying to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover.  They have recently come from Bethany, where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

In the days it took Jesus to reach the city of Jerusalem, the story of the miracle of Lazarus spread quickly.  The teachings of Jesus were already somewhat known in the area, and His arrival caused quite a commotion.  When it became known that Jesus was entering Jerusalem, the people went out into the streets to see who He was, and to welcome Him.  The people spread cloaks and branches for His donkey to tread on.  They sang Psalms and celebrated.

Palm Sunday is my favorite liturgical day of the year.  When people hear this, they generally think it is because it’s a happy, celebratory occasion.  That is not the reason.  It’s actually much more ominous and reflective.

I have a horrible fear of mob mentality.  I always have.  I hate crowds and crowded spaces.  I might blame it on reading Lord of the Flies when I was a bit too young.  More likely, it’s from watching a terrifying episode of The Twighlight Zone entitled “The Shelter” (also at a young age).

A group of friendly neighbors turn on each other when the Civil Defense makes an announcement that an object is heading their way.  They assume they are facing the impending doom of a nuclear attack, and desperately seek help from the only family with a fallout shelter, the same family they teased moments before for its existence.  I probably watched that episode twenty-five or thirty years ago, and I still have nightmares about it.

What does this have to do with Palm Sunday and the happy ride into Jerusalem on a donkey by Jesus?  For me, it’s a stark reminder of how quickly things can change, especially when people aren’t thinking for themselves.  In just a few short days, Judas betrays Jesus.  But more importantly, the crowd, this very same crowd cheering, turns on Him and call for His life.

One reason I think they are so easily swayed is because of their lack of information and knowledge about who He was.  While they joined the exalted cheering and singing of Psalms, they yelled out, “who is it?”  Matthew’s gospel says there was a pretty generic answer given, “Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.”(Matthew 21:10-11).

This reminds me of being in the airport and seeing everyone grab their phones and rush to get a photo of someone you don’t recognize.  Someone throws out a name that is vaguely familiar or a movie or TV show you’ve heard of, so you grab your phone and get excited as well.  But when someone else somehow becomes more popular for a day or two, you suddenly find you’re more interested in Barabbas the thief than the prophet you were infatuated with days before.

You follow the whims of the crowd, however uniformed, however dangerous.  This is what Palm Sunday teaches me.  Think for yourself.  Be informed.  And be leery of masses of people who don’t.

John August Swanson is a painter and serigrapher.  I’ve nearly used his paintings for this blog for several different Christian holidays, but for various reasons have always chosen something else.  He has an immense body of religious work, but also some secular as well, including an excellent circus series.

I love that his work is influenced by his mother’s Mexican tradition, but mixed with a look of Russian iconography.  The facial features remind me of Medieval religious work, but the color palette is more Mexican folk or early 20th Century American Regionalism.  It gives the feeling of representing a historical event, while simultaneously seeming modern and current.

My favorite part of this painting is the clouds.  I think that’s why this painting fits me so much better than most other paintings of the triumphal entry.  They give the feeling that something is about to change, something is coming.  It might be a celebration now, but something foreboding lies ahead for Jesus.

So while we celebrate, let us look to what we know the rest of the week will bring.

Swanson detail

Detail of Entry into the City

See more of John August Swanson’s work here:  John August Swanson

Read the Biblical texts of the triumphal entry here:  Matthew 21:1-11



White Helmet Rescue

Marc Nelson  Charcoal and Watercolor  2016

Today we remember the protest of March 15, 2011 in Damascus. Joining what had already been dubbed the Arab Spring, Syrian protesters took to the streets to demand governmental reform and the release of prisoners. Six years of civil war, chaos, and destruction, and there is still no reform.

When we saw the security forces open fire on the crowd that day, we knew it was bad.  But which of us realized the future that lay ahead for this country?  Who among us knew the suffering children not yet born would endure?  Could we have predicted six years of civil war with no relief in sight?  And most alarmingly, how could we possibly have known our own country would turn our backs on those most in need, those seeking refuge?

The Syrian Civil Defense, more widely known simply as the White Helmets, are the best hope for Syrian civilians.  They are not military or militia.  They do not defend homes with weapons, nor do they sit in offices in far off lands debating the fate of others.  They are the heroes.

They may consider themselves unarmed volunteer rescuers, but what they are is something bigger than heroes.  They’re angels.  They are hope.  They have saved over 78,500 lives after attacks.  More than 150 have lost their lives in the process.

Last year, a middle school art teacher in Kewanee, Illinois challenged his students to draw portraits of people who performed acts of kindness “under the radar.”  Marc Nelson used the White Helmets as examples for his students, and has several sketches of them in action.

I love the bright, white helmets in the drawing.  They seem to cut through the fog of rubble and chaos behind them and shine as beacons of hope.  The boy’s face is grey and ashen.  The face of the man that’s holding him is happy to pass him over to the rescuer.  But the boy, the far off look of his eyes is almost eerie, lost.  This is a child  who has probably spent half of his short life with the hum of airstrikes looming.  Gunfire just a part of the soundtrack to his everyday life.

One has to wonder, have we lost them?  Have we lost them all?  A whole generation that knows nothing but violence.  Their parents protested in peace to have the freedoms that we in America enjoy.  They once envied our way of life of religious freedom, tolerance for all ethnicities.  Now do we show them our true colors?  Do we tell them they are not entitled to the rights we enjoy?

Each time we take to the streets to protest, let us remember we have not only that freedom.  We also have the freedom to go to bed without the fear of bombs falling on our heads.  We have the freedom to buy food or walk across the street without the fear of gunshots killing our children.  We have the freedom to live in a land where all peoples are represented in our government.   We are free.  I hope that some day the Syrians will be too.

To read more about the White Helmets, click here:White Helmets

To see more work by Mr. Nelson, click here Marc Nelson





The Carnival in Rome

Jose Benlliure y Gil  Oil on Panel  1881

Fastnacht Day, Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Carnivale, Pancake Day–whatever you call it, celebrate it today!  How do you celebrate? Eat, drink, be merry!  And don’t just eat, eat fatty, rich foods like fastnacht and paczki (doughnuts), pancakes, king cakes, or anything else you may not be able to eat starting tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.

Today marks the last day of Shrovetide, the period before Lent.  It is a time of self-examination for Christians.  The general idea is self-reflection leads to repentance and the absolution of sins.  It is a way to prepare for the somber season of lent.  And by prepare, I mean eat alot.

Jose Benlliure y Gil is a Spanish painter of the late 19th and early 20th century.  He is known for both his beautiful portraiture, as well as his work based on flowers and floral work.  This painting is a lovely combination of both.

To me, this painting is somewhere between Pre-Raphaelite and Impressionist, and I love it.  There’s so much happening with the flowers and the costumes and the banners.  My favorite is the woman on the left in red lowering a basket of flowers from the balcony.  Who is she lowering them to?  Or is an admirer sending them up?

And I  also like the child on the right.  It looks like a young person has just tossed flowers and maybe pamphlets or flyers over the balcony.  You can see blue papers or pieces of fabric and flowers floating down in front.

The cool tones of the palette, especially cerulean blue, contrast wonderfully against the warm grey walls.  And the texture is just layer after layer.  The blotchy walls, the fabric, the flowers.  There is just great depth in this painting that I enjoy.

Please check out Museo CarmenThyssen Malaga for a description from the museum where it is housed.

I hope you have enjoyed your final day of Mardi Gras!




Jose Benlliure y Gil  Self Portrait