My first job was at a Pittsburgh advertising studio. Another artist there was Paul Rendel, a very talented illustrator who became both a friend and mentor. Paul enjoyed carving wood, and when I said that his front door looked like a really fun project — he had carved a beautiful sun on it — he suggested collaborating on a wood carving.
I had just finished an illustration with a cigar store Indian, so that's the project I proposed. Paul liked the idea, too. The year was 1976, the Bicentennial.
We decided to do three things in preparation:
- We each read different books on wood carving.
- We drew our vision of an Indian, independently of each other.
- And we visited the Smithsonian's collection of folk art.
|left, photo by Edward S. Curtis | center and right, the Smithsonian Institution
Our final piece, named Kicking Bear,
was a happy compromise.
Here's Kicking Bear in Paul's garage, at an early stage of the carving. Because uncured wood has a tendency to split, we used wood that was at least 80 years old, salvaged from the Queen City Railroad Station in Cumberland, Maryland. Paul tried various glues for the lamination, including marine glue, but settled on Elmer's Glue.
Because Paul had the working space, and because he was the more experienced carver, Paul did the major part of the carving, and I did detail work (always the detail man). When the carving was finished at Paul's house, it moved to my apartment, where I did most of the painting.
The skirt on Kicking Bear — the statue — faithfully displays that rendering. Above, and at the front of the skirt, are chiefs and medicine men, the battle high command. Below, Custer is depicted alone and unscalped. Kicking Bear explained that the outlines superimposed over the dead cavalrymen were their souls rising.
Around his neck, Kicking Bear wears a bear claw necklace from which is suspended a medal from President Grant. The carved and painted medal replicates an actual one that states, "Liberty Justice and Equality," which of course was a broken promise, one of many.
While Kicking Bear offers a pipe (presumably a peace pipe) he holds a tomahawk behind his back. He appears to have one foot upon a stone, but from the rear, the viewer sees a skull.
The figure of Kicking Bear nests into the base, which proclaims on the front that the tobacco is "Mild & Mellow."
|Pittsburgh Post Gazette
The carving of Kicking Bear was a year-long project for Paul and me, and Paul's wife endured sawdust in her house for much of that time. A selling price was established for the carving, and I eventually bought Paul's share, though not before Kicking Bear was displayed at several art shows. I later gifted the cigar store Indian to my older brother, at whose home it now resides.