Everyone’s A Painter

Spring Painting Picnic in Orleans

Rick Tolley, a painter from the coast, helped organize a painters’ day Saturday with a team from the Karuk Tribe’s Pikyav Field Institute. The field had been mowed in advance but the mower had left big clusters of California poppies./Photo by Malcolm Terence, Two Rivers Tribune Contributor.

Rick Tolley, a painter from the coast, helped organize a painters’ day Saturday with a team from the Karuk Tribe’s Pikyav Field Institute. The field had been mowed in advance but the mower had left big clusters of California poppies./Photo by Malcolm Terence, Two Rivers Tribune Contributor.

By MALCOLM TERENCE, TRT Contributing Writer

Forget the calendar. The first day of spring in Orleans was last Saturday, and dozens of locals of all ages showed up to observe it at a painter’s picnic. A handful of established painters from the coast also joined in.

A crew of Karuk Tribe organizers set up the “Drawing Connections” event at the site that once held the Orleans Hotel.

It was the idea, by all telling, of Heather Rickard, part of the Tribe’s Pikyav Field Institute. Heather had approached Rick Tolley, an established painter on the coast who was already predisposed to support mid-Klamath issues.

Tolley explained that he returned in January from a winter trip to Mexico with lots of new paintings and plans to show his new work at the Upstairs Gallery in Arcata on June 9.

Tolley said the new political landscape made it seem selfish to just parade his own work and he was pondering the correct path when he heard a presentation at a meeting of the California Native Plant Society from two Orleans organizers.

They were Tanya Chapple and Erica Terence from the Mid Klamath Watershed Council. They talked him into opening his show to many area artists and to make it a Mid Klamath Watershed Council fundraiser. Tolley was an easy sell.

While he was in Mexico, people there, weary from Donald Trump’s demands to build a border wall, would ask aggressively whether he was from the United States. He answered, “No, I’m from California.” He said Mexicans accepted the distinction.

The rolling slope, where the hotel once was, was the perfect setting for the first day of spring. Someone already mowed the tall grass in the area, but left huge clusters of California poppies to inspire the painters. One table was nearly buried in contributed art supplies and the event was free.

The sun was overhead, but not too hot. After a winter of nearly twice normal rainfall, the sun was welcome, but Orleans will be terribly hot in a month or two so the painters knew they’d picked the right day.

The river below was swollen but still lazy. Birds wheeled overhead. The Pikyav crew set up tables, a pop-up canopy and an array of cool drinks and jars of fresh-baked cookies. Soon a small barbecue was kindled and a lunch of sausages, salads and steaming chili were available.

Julian Lang stopped by looking for somebody, prepared to leave, but then surrendered to the reverie of the day. He retrieved his guitar from the car and settled into the shade to sing.
He remembered the hotel, before it burned down. He rented a room in 1949 to William Bright, the Berkeley linguist who started inventorying the Karuk language.

Bright began his fieldwork among the Karuk in 1949. Wikipedia, the online resource, writes that “since encounters with Europeans had rarely ended well for the Karuk, the community had little reason to welcome an outsider. But Bill Bright was deferential, curious and, at 21, scarcely more than a boy. He was also visibly homesick. The Karuk grandmothers took him in, baking him cookies and cakes and sharing their language. They named him Uhyanapatanvaanich, ‘little word-asker.’”

In 1957, Bright published “The Karok Language” (University of California), a detailed description of the language and its structure. In 2005, the tribe published a Karuk dictionary, compiled by Bright and Susan Gehr.

These days a full scale restoration of Karuk language is underway. Bright died in 2006, but shortly before his death, in recognition of his efforts to document and preserve the language, he was made an honorary member of the Karuk tribe, the first outsider to be so honored.

Julian Lang is steeped in that restoration of language and recited the names of the elder speakers who Bright recorded during his stay at the hotel.

Orleans kids were happy to spend the day painting, snacking on cookies and basking in perfect weather along the banks of the Klamath. There were adults around as well, many adults, but they seemed happy to become kids themselves for the day./Photo by Malcolm Terence, Two Rivers Tribune Contributor.

Orleans kids were happy to spend the day painting, snacking on cookies and basking in perfect weather along the banks of the Klamath. There were adults around as well, many adults, but they seemed happy to become kids themselves for the day./Photo by Malcolm Terence, Two Rivers Tribune Contributor.

Ben Saxon, who also works with the tribe’s Pikyav team, said the old hotel site was once the center of the village Panámniik, and coaxed the beginning painters to partner with the veterans. Saxon is an experienced painter and sculptor himself and quickly began painting.

Heather Rickard’s father Paul is an accomplished water colorist from the coast. He had already nearly completed three landscapes and was helping novice painters during the Saturday event. He thanked the Tribe for the invitation to share the ancestral site.

Tolley set up his portable easel near one of the cluster of poppies and began painting them on his canvas. Periodically he’d break to look at the work of the other painters and to encourage them. When Tyler Conrad, a young, gifted Karuk artist arrived, Tolley asked to see his work and invited him to join the June 9 show.

Regina Chichizola, a longtime river activist, dropped in and pitched her own fundraiser event, one for fishing communities threatened by the crash of salmon populations. That event, a dinner and concert, will be held May 27 at the Eagle House at 2nd and C Street in Eureka.

Clarence Hostler and Brian Tripp started singing traditional songs and playing their square drums. No one looked at their watches or checked their devices. Time had not quite stopped, but it certainly was not in any big hurry.

The crowd grew and scattered around the property to paint as the day wore on.

No one seemed in a hurry. It was, after all, a holiday—the real first day of Spring.

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