Oujournalist’s Blog

The blog of a freelancing journalist in Arizona

Casa Grande artist brings heritage to students August 15, 2011

Filed under: Artists in Pinal County — Candace Hughes @ 2:59 am
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Casa Grande resident shows art in Scottsdale   By Candace S. Hughes   “Water and birds have played a significant role in the daily life of the people of the Gila River Indian Community. While the Gila River flowed free, these lands were rich and fertile. Channels were hand dug throughout the entire community. Today, electric pumps bring up ground water for the farms. There are several ‘swimming holes’ throughout the community that serve as recreation centers. The irrigation ditches are now concrete.”   n  Anne Powers-Pedro (wife of artist Amil Pedro) Statement at entrance to Memories from the Gila River exhibit   CASA GRANDE – Following a tradition of passing along cultural values, Sacaton Middle School students and their teacher, Amil Pedro, are displaying art and tools at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts through Jan. 1.   A group of eighth graders carried on the tradition of creating headdresses, guided by Pedro, but they weren’t the large Plains Indians war bonnets seen in movies. These are smaller creations of turkey feathers in the custom used by Native peoples from the Gila River area.   The work was done at Sacaton Middle School under a grant from the Center for the Arts paying Pedro, and is part of a decade-long focus of community outreach activities by the center.   The introduction to the exhibit hall displaying the art and tools provides the explanation that the Gila River no longer flows freely and many of the indigenous birds which would have provided feathers have left the area.   “This river served as a lifeline that linked the Gila River Indian Community, which is composed of two tribes: the Akimel O’odham (Pima) and Pee-Posh (Maricopa). Today these tribes live together as one community, each maintaining their own distinct traditions,” the exhibit materials explain to visitors from outside the area.   Pedro was raised in District 7 on the west side of the Gila River Reservation near 83rd Avenue and West Baseline Road and has never seen a continuously free-flowing Gila, but has witnessed the Salt River running after rainfall.   “Our cultural tradition is that the Gila was a free flowing river and I’ve heard they had a lot of wild birds and even geese, golden and bald eagles and blue herons as well as beaver, turtles and fish,” Pedro said.   The headdresses in the exhibit are the type that would have been made from the feathers of these wild birds who had nests along the river, he explained.   The seven students whose work is at the center are: Melissa Blackwater, Heidi Howard, Lorena Clashin, Joshua Mejia, Rainee Juan, Daylene Whittaker and Kelly Morris. All attended the opening except for one who was performing in a dance group that evening.   Helping the youth of Sacaton Middle School to hold onto their traditions by learning to make their own headdresses” is one of the highlights of his career, Pedro said.   Arts are encouraged for all youth to promote self-esteem and to encourage young people to stay in school and with the artist residency program the additional goal is to help preserve Native American cultural heritage.   Pedro, who lives in the foothills of Casa Grande Mountain, is of Quechan and Maricopa/Cahuilla ancestry.   “When they saw the students’ completed project this year the center thought it would be a good idea to spotlight him and the different things he has taught at the school,” said Anne Powers-Pedro, Amil Pedro’s wife. The exhibit is dedicated to her for support of his artwork.   “Honor the Past – Develop the Future” is the theme of his art, which includes decorated gourds and walking sticks, arrows, a knife and ancient tools including an atlatl.   “They were kind of afraid to put the headdresses together at first, but after they got started, and saw each was a little different, they were happy about their results. They used their own technique and it was their own creation,” Pedro explained.   The students met three times weekly for a month, he added. Their work may be shown on the reservation and at Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort when the Center for the Arts exhibit is taken down.   Three Sacaton Middle School teachers attended the April opening and supported the project. They are Toni Allen, social studies; Barbara Snyder, reading; and Joe Ellen Kinnamon, physical education.   “For about 10 years Barbara and I have been the “teacher coordinators on our staff who have been involved in scheduling Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts events for our school,” said Allen, of Casa Grande.   The project is starting its 29th year and helped students learn to set a goal, work steadily towards it and not give up when it got difficult, she added.   “They learned about some of the ways their ancestors appreciated art and brought it into everyday lives.   “Then, public events such as the opening challenged them to stand up in front of strangers and speak – totally impromptu and they did rise to the occasion!” she added.   “They got to socialize in a kind of upscale setting,” Allen continued.   The teachers know art education is valuable, she explained.   Pedro’s calling as an artist came early. His first memory of art was drawing on his bedroom wall, followed by scolding and a reminder not to do this in the future. He then took his art to the rafters where no one could view the results.   More successful attempts brought rewards of arts supplies and boxes of food when he entered reservation art shows.   Although while he was at Sherman Institute in California he was told he didn’t have the talent to attend art school in Santa Fe, he feels this was an event which gave him the motivation to develop his own style and practice his skills.   He entered South Mountain art shows starting at age 14 and moved to art events in Scottsdale at the Safari hotel and other locations as well as Cahokia art show in East St. Louis where he won first prize in 1999 for an atlatl (a spear throwing device).   Pedro worked restoring Arizona state buildings for 20 years before retiring 10 years ago. He was in the Arizona State Employees Art League and displayed at the state Capitol during that time. This work has resulted in receiving the State of Arizona’s Governor’s Award of Excellence on two occasions.   His art now may be seen in Arizona state offices as well as tribal buildings, banks and credit unions in the United States and Canada. Through a cultural exchange, Pedro’s work is on permanent display in Russia.   In addition, he has demonstrated flint knapping at the Museum of Man in San Diego, and has received the Arizona Indian Living treasure Award at the Museum of Northern Arizona.   Some of his work includes illustrations for a series of Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department pamphlets as well as work in a children’s storybook for the Phoenix Indian Center.   Amil works out of his home studio now and has collectors regularly requesting walking sticks, which start at about $45 and go up depending on the size. “People bring him saguaro ribs they’ve collected on the reservation,” Anne Pedro-Powers said.   “People buy one thing and come back and buy another thing from him. He gets to know a lot of people and does a lot of custom work,” she added.                   Places to see Amil Pedro’s art   Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort, 5594 W. Wild Horse Pass Blvd, Chandler.  – Pedro regularly gives art tours and demonstrations at the resort where he has created much of the art. Telephone: 602-225-0100 Web site: wildhorsepassresort.com.   The hotel’s collection includes 40 acrylic, ink and watercolor paintings and 100 hand-painted gourds and feathers. He also designed a blanket throw titled Gila River Dreams used in the resort’s guest rooms. The throw is available for sale in the resort’s gift shop.   Huhugam Heritage Center, 4759 N. Maricopa Road adjacent to Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort. Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission: $5 adults, $3 seniors, $2 children 6-12. Telephone: 520-796-3500 Web site: www.huhugam.com   Gila River Indian Arts and Crafts Center. Take exit 175 off 1-10 between Phoenix and Casa Grande. Telephone: 480-963-3981.     Heard Museum Indian Market, 2301 N. Central Ave., Phoenix. 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.. Telephone: 602-252-8848 Web site: http://www.heard.org.  

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