Here at the American Bald Eagle Festival in Haines, Alaska, releasing eagles back to the wild is part of the program. This year there are five. Wounded or sick birds that have been revived by local animal shelters are brought here for this purpose. A prominent Chilkat Chief of the Raven Clan released one at dawn today. Dressed in full regalia — button blanket and traditional wooden hat — he said a few words in the Tlingit language. Then, on the count of three, he threw the bird into the air. To sustained applause from onlookers, the bird took off across the snowy valley and merged with other eagles among the distant cottonwoods.
The two main clans here are the Eagle Clan and the Raven Clan. In this culture Ravens must marry Eagles and Eagles must marry Ravens. It is the mother’s line that determines lineage. As the Bald Eagle is the Eagle Clan’s sacred bird, Eagles may not touch or handle the Bald Eagle. Only a Raven Clan member can have this honour.
“There is,” says the Chief, “a universal love for freedom and a desire to see freedom happen. We cannot stand in the way of this freedom. The eagle that I have released must take its chances in the wild along with all the others that are struggling to survive.”
This valley has filled with people who have come from far and near to witness the event. They are members of the local tribes as well as birdwatchers, photographers, naturalists, artists, loggers, fishermen and their children from the nearby schools. There are tears of joy when the eagles fly.
In all of us there is an eagle. Our eagle is beautiful, strong and noble, eager to be free of some humiliating cage. In freedom we can forage on our own and take part in the competition that is life. We are not made to be contained or managed in some warm zoo. We need to feel the air in our feathers, to know the potential of our eyes and the capability of our talons.
PS: “No man has received from nature the right to give orders to others. Freedom is a gift from heaven, and every individual of the same species has the right to enjoy it as soon as he is in enjoyment of his reason.” (Denis Diderot) “To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.” (Robert Louis Stevenson)
Esoterica: As part of my contribution to the Eagle Festival, I gave a large painting for permanent display in their museum. From this original a 500 edition Giclee print was produced — to be sold only in their museum shop. I also donated the reproduction rights for cards, art-cards, etc. To give you an idea of the mechanics of the deal, the framed price of the limited edition print is $400, the unframed price $250. Of this figure $100 goes to the Foundation, $50 to printing and other costs, and $100 to the artist. The print may take 5 or more years to sell out. The Foundation is responsible for the ongoing bookkeeping and disbursements. There are lots of ways to do something like this, and this is not necessarily the definitive way.
Call of the warm cage
by Heidi McCurdy, White Rock, BC, Canada
Your eagle letter made me cry. Many times I have tried to convince myself to want the warm cage. It seems that it would be so much easier to follow paths that have been walked by others time and time again rather than forging my own. But this is my freedom — to seek the expression of inner truth, explore new ways of doing things, and creatively share what I discover. The urge to soar never goes away, and it is painful if it is repressed. Despite the risks, one must trust one’s wings.
Freedom is within ourselves
by Nina Allen Freeman, Tallahassee, FL, USA
Freedom, is what being an artist is all about. If you read biographies of some artists, much of their stories have to do with searching for the freedom to express themselves authentically. Art has been limited often by the culture of the times. But what about limitations to freedom from within ourselves? So you can paint anything you want to, express yourself in any way you choose, and find road blocks within yourself. Self-defeating thoughts, expectations of what other people want from you, these are cages as well.
Freedom to soar
by Linda Muttitt, Fort Langley, BC, Canada
Reading about the eagles, I am reminded of many times when I have seen wildness and felt moved to tears. I believe it inspires a spirit in us that dreams of soaring beyond what is known to us. In our creative explorations, calling upon that soaring spirit is one of the greatest challenges. To be freed into another place, moved further into that unknown sky, to trust the elements, read the wind, to let go of whatever holds us fixed to our common ground — these are immense lifting off points. I wish us all the courage to believe in the possibility. Fear carries great weight, but hey, planes lift off every day. It’s just a matter of invention, power, and building strength.
Voyage to freedom
by Lyn Cherry, Maryville, TN, USA
A year or so after being diagnosed and treated for breast cancer, we took a cruise and land tour to Alaska. The whole trip was delightful, but the main attraction for me was the wildlife I was able to see, particularly the abundance of eagles and other raptors. The feel of freedom in Alaska, both in the people and the fauna, helped me complete my voyage to freedom from pre-cancer up-tight “normality” to post-cancer freedom of not needing to be in “control” all of the time. When I feel trapped in some paintings, I draw on that feeling of freedom I experienced in Alaska, and I just let my paint and spirits soar. Each week, my spirit soars when I read your wonderful letters, and the interesting answers you receive.
by Maritza Burgos, Melbourne, Australia
In this age of uncertainty, when it seems that freedom in all its forms is threatened by fear, suspicion, bigotry and intolerance I sometimes despair at the legacy we are leaving to our children and their children. What kind of world will they inherit if we don’t honour our environment and our fellow human beings and fellow creatures on this planet? Freedom of speech and expression are sacred gifts, as is the freedom to live in dignity and the ability to realize one’s potential. This sacred gift belongs to all living creatures.
Art in its different expressions can serve to remind us all of this and that we are all bound by this right to let our souls and spirits thrive in freedom, while still honouring one another. A great work of art is that which moves and touches one’s spirit and adds to one’s experience of the world, but does not impose on one’s values. It lets one take from it what one wants or needs. May we all live in freedom!
Symbolism for many
by Sonja Donnelly, Lake Oswego, OR, USA
These magnificent birds hold so much symbolism for so many. I happened to have just finished a painting that also portrays the eagle as a strong symbol. It is titled Help sew the seeds of Freedom, Peace and Understanding. I love using this beautiful bird in paintings. And to think we almost selected the turkey as our national U.S. bird. Thank you for the wonderful picture of the eagle’s release back into the wild. I wish I could have been among the spectators. May they soar in the winds of freedom, and touch the hearts of all who feel a breeze from its wing on their
Eagle or turkey?
by John D. Vedilago, Göteborg, Sweden
Think of what the world would be if America had followed the thoughts of Benjamin Franklin in picking symbols. He wrote the following in a letter to his daughter:
“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.”With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country…
“I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”
Eagle or chicken?
by Jeffrey J Tschida, Austin, TX, USA
An Anthony deMello story from his book, Awareness, that I thought might be of interest to our community:
A man found an eagle’s egg and put it in a nest of a barnyard hen. The eaglet hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them. All his life the eagle did what the barnyard chicks did, thinking he was a barnyard chicken. He scratched the earth for worms and insects. He clucked and cackled. And he would thrash his wings and fly a few feet into the air. Years passed and the eagle grew very old. One day he saw a magnificent bird above him in the cloudless sky. It glided in graceful majesty among the powerful wind currents, with scarcely a beat of its strong golden wings. The old eagle looked up in awe. “Who’s that?” he asked. “That’s the eagle, the king of the birds,” said his neighbor. “He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth — we’re chickens.” So the eagle lived and died a chicken, for that’s what he thought he was.
Eagles used for religious rituals
by Tim Simmons, West Memphis, AR, USA
Did you know that the U.S. government allows American Indians to kill eagles each year for their religious sacrifices and headdresses? You may want to check this out. Sad… 3 eagles released, 40 slaughtered for religious reasons. This is also why the Bald Eagle was endangered until the late ’70s and even now they are not fully protected. If a white man kills one it’s serious business. High fines or prison but the law actually allows for Indians to kill them — not for survival but for religion. It sickens me each time I think about it.
(RG note) Thanks, Tim. More information on the subject available from the The Eagle Defense Network.
Red Kite returns to England
by Angela Kingshott, Stokenchurch, UK
I live in the Chilterns in England — an area of outstanding natural beauty about 30 miles from London. Many years ago one John Paul Getty decided that it was missing something — and that was a particular bird of prey called a Red Kite… and set about reintroducing it. This was a bold step because there was a lot of opposition from the local aristocracy, game keepers and the like who thought that they would take game and spoil the local shooting. However, it was shown that although a Red Kite is a bird of prey it is not a predator but a scavenger and serves a purpose similar to that of a vulture. So 5 Spanish pairs were released in 1989 and their reintroduction has been staggering successful. These beautiful birds have been shown to actually clear up the environment by removing carcasses, taking crows, young jackdaws, pigeons and even seagulls — all of which are regarded as pests around here. Since then there are now 139 breeding pairs, some have linked up and are breeding with the native Welsh stock — which were saved from extinction by a farmer’s efforts at Grigrin farm when their numbers dropped to just 4 pairs… these have also linked up with those released at other sites across the UK — some more successfully than others — as the Northumberland ones were either poisoned or shot by zealous game keepers who saw them as a threat — despite all the evidence to the contrary. There is no more a pleasing site than seeing these magnificent birds circling in a dance in the skies over the Chiltern Hills.
Eagles frequent front yard
by Dan Vukicevic, Bowser, BC, Canada
I live in the small hamlet of Bowser on the east side of Vancouver Island and I always tell people that the most common bird in my yard is the bald eagle. They are usually here through spring when the herring season is on and throughout the summer until the salmon spawn. Years ago this area was a great salmon spawning area and the eagles stayed here all year. They go away for most of the winter to areas where salmon spawn and then return. This past year two eagles started building a nest in a large fir tree that is on the beach in front of my home and they have just returned and are adding to the nest. I thought this was unusual and we are hopeful that we will see some eaglets in the new year. They usually hatch in July/Aug. Although I have made my living designing and building high voltage substations I developed a passion for carving life-size birds. In my 15 years of carving I always had in my mind the head of an eagle and so I finally decided to do one and I hope to finish painting it in the next couple of months.
Eagle for personal totem
by Linda Saccoccio, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
As a child I experienced oppression and pain. I always had the deep desire to fly, not just in a plane but like a bird. I needed that feeling of lightness and freedom. I recognized my frustration with the idea of war early on — it did not make sense to me. As a prisoner in the strictness and misunderstandings of the adults in my life I was compelled to be free someday. I developed an intimacy with the time I had alone making art. I experienced expansiveness while creating. The eagle became my totem because it symbolizes freedom, strength, powerful vision and the ability to soar!
Limited edition prints
by Jacqueline Meredith, BC, Canada
I am curious about the details of your limited edition print. You indicate that you donated the reproduction rights to the foundation for cards, etc. I was under the impression that a “limited edition print” limits the number of images that can be printed in any format. For example, the attached image is a limited edition of 95. The original watercolour is 11 x 14 inches. I have some of the 95 printed that size and others 9 x 12 and 5 x 7. I have not sold cards with that image. Could I still sell cards that aren’t numbered? What about small prints?
(RG note) Thanks Jacqueline. In a situation like the one I mentioned, ancillary items like cards might be beneficial to the Eagle Foundation in popularizing limited edition prints on an ongoing basis. My principle is to be generous with the charitable projects I believe in. In your case it would not hurt to have unnumbered cards or small “art-prints.” Just don’t make it look like you are trying to milk the image. Never bring out inexpensive copies — especially photo lithos of a similar size as your limited edition.
by Micky Renders, Toronto, ON, Canada
I am concerned how people are discarding materials such as solvents. I use very little, and try to minimize the toxicity of the ones I use (only to clean my brush, so I just use it until it’s all evaporated). I use a product called Isosol. It is supposed to have the least amount of aromatic toxins, etc. I can’t comment on how it works if mixed with paint, I don’t do that. How do others manage to stay as environmentally sensitive as possible?
(RG note) Thanks, Micky. Oil solvents have improved in the last few years. Isosol (made by Nisseki) is an isoparaffin hydrocarbon solvent, with no smell, low pollution, and low toxicity. Products such as Grumtine (made by Grumbacher) and Liquin (made by Winsor and Newton) cut down on odour and perhaps also have less potential for environmental damage. One of the best oil solvents in my books is Gamsol Odorless Mineral Spirits made by Gamblin. Citrus-based solvents also work with oil and are endorsed by some. In the old days I used to burn all residual oil material, solvents and resins, but this also has become a “no-no” and is illegal in many places. Dumped oil mediums and solvents can leach into the soil, make them inert and cause permanent damage, to say nothing if they get into the food chain. Putting rags, solvents, resins, etc. into garbage where they are taken to municipal land-fills and/or properly incinerated is the best move when available. Spray cans are particularly problematical. Solvent recyclers (Becca and Omega are two popular suppliers) are now available but are most cost-effective for larger applications such as sign shops, body shops and car painting establishments. If you happen to manage a big Chinese oil painting factory you might check them out. My main contribution to ecology has been to switch to water based pigments — acrylics.
by Dorit Pittman, New Orleans, LA, USA
What is usual if a gallery/upscale boutique buys a painting and decides it is not selling and asks for it to be replaced with another one? How often should I do this? I sell my paintings for $150-$700 on the street on Jackson Square, in the French Quarter of New Orleans. I am prolific, do this full time and have little ego involved in the snob status. I do things this way because the more I paint the better I get and after many years of working at high and low paying crummy jobs, I’d rather do this than anything else.
(RG note) Thanks, Dorit. While it’s generally a mistake to sell works outright to galleries, the situation sometimes comes up. And the business of returning and exchanging can happen. I would be prepared to exchange twice or perhaps three times at the most — otherwise I might conclude that either I or the dealer was a dud.
Painter’s keys community
by Sonja Boyce, Edson, AB, Canada
I just had another brainwave. Wouldn’t it be interesting to have R. Genn sanctioned tee-shirts, luggage decals, bumper stickers, etc. stating that the bearer (wearer) is a recipient of the twice weekly letter. It would be interesting to see how many conversations would be sparked in airports, grocery line-ups, or in other countries, etc. I seem to be always thinking on the lighter side.
(RG note) Thanks, Sonja. Fun idea. I have a bad attitude regarding tee-shirts with advertising on them. Also, bumper stickers should be limited to: “Willing to be President for Food.” But how’s about a discrete and well-designed badge that subscribers could put on lapels, hats or easels? Any ideas for a design?
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2005.
That includes Larry Moore of Orlando, FL, USA who wrote, “There’s a sad irony in that Indian mythology is more about letting things go whereas the dominant religions are more about trying to convert. The latter has all but eradicated the former.