a. Family and Extended Family
Maple Syrup and Honey

Looking backward, looking forward to dreams that still need happening, and paintings that still need to be painted, perhaps in ways not yet imagined. The trees outside my window are dancing with the weight of squirrels that jump from branch to branch as they reach for seeds to nibble, a mate's tail, or just reaching. That, to me, is life, the process of reaching.

Bonding with people across the globe is like maple syrup and honey. The syrup is site specific, harvested from maple trees that grow on the White Earth Reservation, Winona's Minnesota home. Now she shares her home with us. My art is like maple syrup filtered through a specific tree, me.

Honey is ubiquitous. Fingers licked inside a village home in Eritrea, Africa, where I have been invited for tea, and presented with honey, golden drops from the wax comb just harvested from the bee hive.

fig. 64: Mali: Dogon Rain Chant
© Betty LaDuke

In Mali, a Dogon wood carved sculpture has a mother's strong hands that reach above her head, a prayer gesture for rain. In my painting Mali: Dogon Rain Chant (fig. 64), the mother is my child, Winona, nursing her children, fulfilling their needs. Her legs are rooted to the earth and contain male and female with their hands upraised, as they reach for nourishment, rain to grow food for the body and the soul.

fig. 65: Africa, Mandala
1987, acrylic, 72"x68", © Betty LaDuke

Three lizards chase each other in the center nest of the Africa, Mandala (fig. 65), while contented birds surround this nest. Within each bird are male and female, facing each other, carriers of seeds for new life. The pleasures of one's own body. Gratification and sufficiency to propel life forward in harmony with one's mate and environment, and beyond. Gratification of the spirit, the pleasure I receive when my art nurtures the lives of the people who have provided inspiration.

fig. 66: Nigeria: Bird Women, Keepers of Peace
1986, acrylic, 68"x72", © Betty LaDuke

In Nigeria: Bird Women, Keepers of the Peace (fig. 66), women sit beside their baskets of fruit, chilis, and kola nuts, talking and dreaming. Their headwrappers unwind, forming mythical spirit birds, guardians of the peace. The birds also predict the future. The women of Cold Comfort Farm Weaving Collective in Harare, Zimbabwe, rename this painting Rainbird Women (fig. 67), which they weave into a tapestry. For them, the appearance of the little black birds that fly around the market women are a happy sign. They see them as predictors of the much needed rains to awaken the soil to provide food.

fig. 67: Rainbird Women
1994, tapestry, 54"x50", © Betty LaDuke

Gratification; though the original painting is still in my studio, Rainbird Women tapestries have appeared and reappeared in commercial art galleries in Europe and the United States, selling and providing sustenance for the Zimbabwe women and their families. Another form of gratification. My painting, Cameroon: Millet Rhythms (fig. 58) is on the cover of Understanding Contemporary Africa (1996), a textbook for history and African Studies at colleges around the United States.

Art can create bridges between people and continents by sharpening our sensitivity to life's diversity. The earth is our shared home. I believe what I do in Ashland, Oregon can make a difference in Africa, and even a very small difference is important.

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All text and images © Betty LaDuke.