Judith Lowry (American, born 1948)
Welgatim's Song, 2001
Acrylic on canvas 68 in. x 90 in. (172.72 cm x 228.6 cm)
Crocker Art Museum, gift of the Artist2009.113
Judith Lowry imbues her depictions of her father’s dramatic Native American stories of family, origination, and nature with the vibrant color, detail, and scale such legends deserve. Many of her subjects are deeply personal, relating family triumphs and tragedies, but she also seeks to record and recover for posterity the oral and musical traditions with which she was raised. These came from her father’s mixed Maidu and Washoe heritage, learned from his grandmother, who in turn learned them from hers. While many are centuries old, told to generations long before the European settlement of California, what remains today, especially of the Maidu and Washo languages, is often only an echo of the original.
Portrayed here is the ancient Native California story of inundation. The protagonist is Welgatim, wife of the mythical coyote Weh-pom. Weh-pom has fallen in love with the beautiful deer Suh-Mim and so plots to murder his wife. Each morning, Welgatim reappears unharmed and makes breakfast for her husband. She warns him of terrible consequences, but Weh-pom will not be dissuaded from his plots. The next morning he awakens to an empty home and when he sets out to hunt finds all the light and heat extinguished. Using song and prayer, Welgatim has summoned all the clouds and rain to the earth as punishment. The story continues with the tale of The Race for Fire and the hazardous trek to distant Mount Tehama (foreshadowed by its depiction in the background here) to retrieve fire in order to save all of earth’s inhabitants. The artist unites both the deluge narrative and the volcanic destruction of Mount Tehama in order to speak directly to our contemporary environmental crisis.