Bobby and the Indians


A boy I’ve known since first grade at St. Luke’s reached out to me a few years ago on messenger. I had not seen or heard from him in at least 48 years. It was strange as I was ridiculously shy and probably never said too much to him in elementary. But he did make an impression on me, he was full of life, in trouble with the nuns frequently. I’m sure I didn’t realize it then but he reminded me of my dad.

He wanted to know if I would be interested in painting this Indian for him.  The original photo is from the national archives, the copyright had not been renewed in 100 years, so I was free to use it as reference.  

It took me several months to work it into my wedding painting schedule but I was excited to paint something different.  Over the months we texted a lot about the Indian and had conversations on art and faith and who we still stayed in touch with, etc. He told me his family were descendants of the Chippewa tribe from northern Minnesota. I think he said the photo was a Chippewa Indian.

I decided to name it ‘Ancestors’. He pointed out that there was a shadowy figure in the background that I had not realized I had painted. I felt that both of the figures were his ancestors, here to tell stories of the past and to honor those who went before them so they would always live on and not be forgotten. He loved that I often pray for the Holy Spirit to take over my arms, hands, mind to help me paint and create.  The shadowy figure looks like an older woman to me, perhaps a great, great grandmother. We bonded over our creation and I was so glad that we were able to work together and ultimately reconnect and build a friendship. 

He told me the painting was for the house he had been building for himself at Lake Texoma and he wanted it to be colorful. But about a year ago, he told me that he wanted to gift this painting and another I painted to his grand children. I thought it was curious but of course it was his decision to do with them what he liked. He built 2 beautiful frames for them, so unique I had never seen anything like them. Cut from trees and in the natural shape of their growth pattern, not squared off as all other frames but honoring their existence, a divine gift for him to utilize.

Last week my friend Bobby took his life. I never got the impression he was unhappy or depressed. To the contrary, I think he was happy on his little piece of land, building something from “nothing” so to speak.  Maybe he got lonely at times but I got the feeling he enjoyed his solitude, cooking, building, designing, creating. When faced with the possibility of losing that freedom, he made his decision.

Now Bobby and his ancestors will live on in so many ways, not to be forgotten, something his grandchildren and their grandchildren will cherish forever. Stories of him and the Chippewa will be told and retold, the beautiful and the ugly. I’m sad that he and I won’t be able to talk more about our shared interests and the Native American, their hard stories and their beautiful love of the land. But I’m thankful our paths crossed one more time, this side of heaven.  Fly high with your people, you will be missed my friend.

The second and last painting I did for Bobby, Minnehaha 1897. 
Also from a photo in the national archives.

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