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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.
Jerome Tiger gave the following interpretation to his painting "The Guardian Spirit". A small boy is hunting alone. It is dusk, and as night approaches the child becomes afraid. He senses something behind him and glances backward to see if he is being followed. There in the cloud formation is the Great Spirit. The boy knows then that the Great Spirit is guarding over him, and he is no longer afraid. The three feathers on the Great Spirit's shield and the three feathers in His headband are symbolic of the Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The painting was purchased in 1966 by a Muskogee (Oklahoma) woman who in helping her eight year old son with a Boy Scout project took him to Nettie Wheeler's Thunderbird Shop. It was well known that Nettie assisted many young Indian artists by selling their works, and her shop, located North of Muskogee, was considered one of the best places in the area to find Indian art and artifacts. Early on the same day that the woman and her son visited the shop, Jerome completed "The Guardian Spirit" and brought it to Nettie so that she could help him sell it. The painting was propped up on the mantel of the fireplace when the woman and her son first saw it. Instantly, the boy was captivated, even enamored with the work. The boy's uncharacteristic reaction surprised his mother who had never known her son to be interested in art. Nettie said several times, "The boy should have this painting; it is speaking to him." Still, the lady was reluctant to purchase the painting because she felt that she could not afford it. Nettie then offered to let her pay for it in installments, or in anyway she could. To further persuade his mother, the boy volunteered to forfeit a much anticipated trip to Six Flags Over Texas amusement park. The woman, of course, bought the painting but was forced to pay for it over a period of several weeks. A few months after the painting was purchased, the woman met Jerome at the opening of the Five Civilized Tribes Museum in Muskogee and mentioned to him that she had acquired his painting. The two of them later became very close friends, and on one occasion when Jerome visited her home he told her and her son his interpretation of "The Guardian Spirit".
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.