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New Maidu Museum exhibit showcases paintings of Frank Day

Traditional Maidu art, tools by Jeremy Peconom also displayed
By: Sena Christian, Staff Reporter
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Artwork by Frank Day and Jeremy Peconom

What: “Artistic Expressions of Maidu Legends and History” by Frank Day and “Traditional Maidu Primitive Arts” by Jeremy Peconom

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday through Jan. 19

Where: Maidu Museum and Historic Site, 1970 Johnson Ranch Drive in Roseville

Cost: $4.50 adult, $4 child/senior, $16 family of four, $2 per person from 2-4 p.m. weekdays. Free entrance on 3rd Saturday Art Walk.

Info: Call (916) 774-5934 or visit www.roseville.ca.us/indianmuseum

It wasn’t until the 1950s that a Maidu Indian depicted the heritage of his tribe in the form of paintings.

Paintings weren’t the medium of choice in those days and self-representation of native Californians was unusual, said cultural specialist Heidi Frantz of the Maidu Museum and Historic Site in Roseville.

Artist Frank Day became the first known Maidu to present oral history and stories through paintings, and now several of these are on display in an exhibit at the Maidu Museum, which runs through Jan. 19.

“We’re very proud of what we’re able to show,” said museum Supervisor Mark Murphy, who called the exhibit extraordinary.

Day, of the Konkow Valley Band of Maidu, was born in 1902 in Berry Creek in Butte County. His father was captain of a roundhouse, which is a building used for traditional ceremonies and rituals. In the 1950s, Day suffered a car accident and afterward began recording indigenous stories and history in paintings, including the ceremonies that occurred in the roundhouses. He passed away in 1976.

“What made him special was he saw (the ceremonies) in person,” Frantz said. “He was raised with them and a lot weren’t.”

A print of one of Day’s most famous paintings from 1973 shows an encounter he had at 9 years old with Ishi, the last known member of the Yahi tribe. Another oil on canvas painting depicts a mourning ceremony, and another shows a young woman dancing in her quest to bear a child. The paintings are on loan from Pacific Western Traders in Folsom.

But the Day paintings aren’t the only new feature in the museum. There’s also an exhibit of traditional Maidu primitive arts by Jeremy Peconom.

He was born in 1979 and grew up going to his family’s cabin on the northeastern shore of Eagle Lake where he learned how to make traditional tools, hunting spears, pipes, bows, head dresses, body armor and more — several of which are on display.

Peconom uses all natural materials found in the environment of his land. He knows the best collection sites of juniper — the preferred wood of sinew-backed bows, and where to obtain obsidian for tools.

“Many people ask me why I think my art is important today and how it relates to my culture,” he said. “The answer is simple. My art is much more than sharp sticks and rocks. It’s a tool to teach and connect the generation.” 

Peconom said in today’s native community, youth are flooded with technology, hip-hop, fashion and the “belief that blood quantum and a casino check make a ‘real Indian.’” He’s out to show that’s not the case.

“What makes us native is more than DNA,” he said. “It’s in our traditions, beliefs and our generational connection to our environment and to each other. My art teaches many of these fading beliefs, which I believe are more vital than ever.”

He said his art teaches connection with the environment through traditional hunting and gathering techniques, as well as connection with past and future generations, perpetuating a lesson taught to him by his father and grandfather: “A Maidu lives for the ones who came before him and the ones who come after him.”