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Rilke, the great poet of the 20th century, said: "... but we who need such mighty mysteries, we for whom blessed advancement so often comes from grief: could we exist without them?" The Great Mysteries: birth, life, death, the suffering, the ecstasy, the simple joys of life; all these the American Indian was acutely aware of. These 'mysteries' the Indian ritualized in song, dance, art and mythology. These were the concerns of Jerome Tiger. The spiritual characteristics, the topics, and the heritage of his Indian people played an important part in the profile of his own personal character and his art. In the last year of his life, many of Jerome Tiger's paintings were of a spiritual nature. "Into Another Life", "There Is No Death", "Warriors End", and "War to Peace, Death to Life" are but a few of the themes which occupied his mind. Of added interest is the fact that "A Walk Through the Great Mysteries", the second in the Mystical Series, was one of Tiger's last creations.
This painting by Jerome Tiger lends itself to at least three artistic interpretations. The first is that it represents the historic "Trail of Tears" journeys, aptly named because of the thousands of Indian lives that were lost due to the negligence of the United States Government, the illness, and the severe Winter weather. These marches, begun after 1830, forced the already undernourished and inadequately clothed Indians to move westward from their homelands in the eastern United States to make room for white expansion. For the frail, the young, and the old, it was indeed a cold journey -- one that remains an indelible blight on the history of America. A second interpretation is that the journey refers to one of the many expeditions that the Indians made to follow the wandering buffalo herds. As the Indian tribes were moved and then moved again, each time drawing less acreage and usually poorer land, starvation became a constant visitor. An agricultural way of life was abandoned and a nomadic lifestyle soon developed as many tribes came to depend almost entirely on the buffalo for their subsistance. Often, the hungry Indians had little resistance to the extreme hardships of winter, and suffered and died on these cold journeys following the migrating buffalo. A third, and certain, interpretation is a symbolic one: The Indian's lifelong spiritual journey. This interpretation is to be expected since it was Jerome Tiger's ability to convey the depth of the Indian's spiritual insight that earned for him a position among the artistic masters. It was, likewise, his facility to depict the wisdom of the Indian's timeless philosophies that secured for him his permanence among the artistic visionaries. And it was his capacity to empathize with the Indian's suffering that won for him a lasting place in the hearts of Indian art lovers. The framework of "Cold, Cold Journey" is intricately woven with these elements of Tiger's genius.
Death to Jerome was the prelude to eternal life. He envisioned the end of the physical body as merely the event that enabled the spirit to free itself. There was no sorrow. Jerome viewed death as the final climactic achievement. The young warrior has died in battle, yet the painting does not evoke sadness, but is a triumphant statement of the undying spirit of man. Although the theme is portrayed with an Indian warrior, it is universal in its appeal-representing all who have tried to find comfort in the face of death and defeat, and who maintqain hope for life after death.
"His Spirit Calls", the seventh release in the Connoisseur's Series, is based on a favorite theme of Tiger's and one that is ever popular with people the world over. It is the belief that the spirit does not end with the death of the physical body, but continues to survive. The Plains Indian Tribes were a very spiritual people, and before their contact with the Christian missionaries they customarily placed their dead on scaffolds similar to those in the foreground of the painting. Their belief was that the body should be placed between this world and the spiritual world to lessen the distance that the spirit would have to travel. This awareness of the spiritual world, the unseen, was as much a part of Tiger as the tangible structures of his daily existence. He believed in a force greater than himself that guided his work and his life. Tiger's feelings of the ethereal are unmistakeable in the painting "His Spirit Calls". In Tiger's version, the Great Spirit is calling his warriors home.
In the second of the Cultural Series, "Intermission", Jerome Tiger captures a moment of rest between stomp dances. The stomp dance is a 'prayer in motion'. It can symbolize thankfulness, supplication for a good harvest, rain, fertility or simply blessings. Typically the dances last through the night, sometimes continuting for days. Needless to say periods of rest and refreshment are neceessary; therefore, "Intermission". The stomp dances are unique in that they are not 'tourist' dances, for they are performed still today in the seclusion of the backwoods. The dancers dance in a circle around an open fire to a plaintive chant intoned by the leader and answered in unison by the dancers. The dances are accompanied by persistent drum beats and the rhythmic sounds of rock-filled turtle shells strapped to the womens' ankles. There is great artistry required in leading the chants, and the best leaders and dancers are awarded a postiion of high respect. Of particular interest in this painting is the adoption of the white man's apparel -- boots, jeans, and hats -- together with traditional Indian dress, symbolizing a subtle integration of the two cultures.
The history of the Indian people in America is filled with hardships and journeys both spiritual and physical. The Trail of Tears which brought the Five Civilized Tribes to their present home in Oklahoma was fraught by deprivations that caused the death of thousands. Many who survived were poverty-stricken and in poor health. For those Indians and for many generations that followed, it proved also to be a spriitual journey. One which forced the Indian to accept new and changing ways while he tried to retain his tribal integrity and spiritual strenght. The mysterious feeling invoked by "Moon over Journey" is symbolic both of the Indian's journey to an unknown land and man's uncharted journey through life.
"Never Get Away" is the third painting reproduced in the Cultural Series. It follows "Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow" and "Intermission". The paintings in this series often have a brown background. The figures appear to fade into the canvass in some places, and stand out in stark relief in others. This concept originated with Tiger, and the style is unique. As the name of the series implies, these paintings have a cultural theme; each depicts the Creek Tribe in everyday life, and is accurate as to clothing and activities. "Never Get Away" goes back to the period when Oklahoma was Indian Territory. This was a time when the tribes governed themselves. The Light Horesemen were Indian police who kept law and order within the tribe. The title "Never Get Away" describes the painting well. The Light Horseman is doing his job, has caught his man, and is ready to bring him to justice. It may be noted that the 'Indian way' was not prison. That was the white man's innovation. The Indian traditionally punished his own with banishment, whippings or death. Cultural ties were so strong that the so called prisoner was not jailed, but was expected to wait until punishment was netted out.
The Cultural Series is a collection of familiar scenes from the everyday life of Jerome Tiger's Indian people; their customs and habits, their celebrations, their sports and entertainment. The fourth release in the Cultural Series, entitled "Roughing It Up", depicts two players involved in the strenuous Indian game of Stickball. This age-old sport is traditionally a fast-moving, violent game which often accelerates into bloody combat between the teams. The players catch a ball in scoops attached to the end of wooden sticks which are about three feet long, and hurl it at a goal, usually a carved animal head sitting atop a tall pole. In the heat of the game the players angrily swing and thrash their sticks like clubs to fend off their opponents. Instinctively, Tiger added to "Roughing It Up" the touches of realism necessary to capture the action and ferocity of the Stickball game. The aggressor's sticks are clenched in a vise-like grip; his opponent's sticks are free in the air, his fingers open. The viewer is literally made to feel the rush of breathe from the player's lungs as he is brought down. The impact of the collision in so artfully accomplished that even the most casual observer is effected. Because of its dynamic realism, its force and action, Roughing It Up" must rank as one of Tiger's truly powerful works.