Someone has carved “Your Name Here” in the soft
Chuckanut sandstone along the shore near here.
In this thoroughly modern era, branding meets irony
and hyper self awareness to go with an older strata
of names, initials, and dates. Yards away, there is
also a new heart with initials carved on a seaward
facing boulder. On a cement retaining wall below
the wharf walk there is a new tag.
Carved and painted images are found in China,
Australia, the United States, and around the world.
A famous petroglyph titled “She Who Watches” is
near the Columbia River. Images (including one
of a parrot!) are carved on the lava rocks
(now with a dark patina) of the West Mesa
on what once was an edge of Albuquerque, NM.
There are thousands of carvings on lava flats
on Hawai’i island, and images carved or painted
on Lana’i, O’ahu, and Hawai’i island boulders.
Graffiti? Ancient tagging? No. I eschew “Rock Art”:
it is forever reminding me of art inspired by an
era’s enduring music.
There is certainly artistic rendering and excellence
in some (no, many) of the carved and painted images.
Call them petroglyphs or pictographs:
carvings in stone or paintings on stone.
The term I like best is new to me:
“Stone Poems,” coined by Harry Fonseca
(a visual artist of Hawaiian, Maidu,
and Portuguese descent) for his series
of paintings incorporating petrographic elements.
Ancient and newer carved images have been
used for target practice (shot at and bombed).
Images have been defaced, vandalized, filled with
liquid latex or epoxy and abandoned when the “molds”
failed. Images of animals have been annotated with
leashes. Petroglyphs have been submerged by water
rising behind dams. Carvings have been moved to new
public locations or to secret undisclosed caches.
Petroglyphs have been stolen from original sites for
museums, and in turn stolen from those museums for
private collections or (hopefully) for safekeeping
by representatives of First Peoples.
Others – not understanding – have added carvings
and think they are merely adding to a store of
graffiti. Some – perhaps more enlightened – carve
to gather a sense of what it might have been like
to carve rock in that place or to be part of a
conversation continued across time.
Large images in the California desert have been
damaged or worn away to nonexistence by riders of
motorcycles and ATV’s. The glyphs were once fenced
off for protection; now I fear the fencing is scattered
like kindling and the barbed wire mere wreckage,
and all from an incomprehensible, drunken anger.
I have seen images on inches-thick crowbarred- and
levered-out rock near a Hilo, Hawai’i doorstep.
I was then only a teenager, and couldn’t comprehend
what this meant: novelty for novelty’s sake, the
removal of image from place of origin and context,
With my own eyes I have seen bulldozer tracks in
lava panels feet away from carved images on the
Kona coast of the Big Island of Hawai’i, and have
felt my eyes tear in disbelief and anger.
I could write that things (and people) in the way
of our voracious appetites are (or can be) consumed.
And yet, there is also non-damaging connection.
Some immediately understand the intrinsic value
and irreplaceable nature of rock carvings and rock
paintings, and seek only to witness, to photograph,
to draw likenesses, and to record.
Can the carvings (or images) be read?
Begin with this carved footprint or this
carved or painted handprint: no, not so
different, now, from mine. Begin with:
“This is me, the maker, the carver, the
painter.” Vary and multiply the images
and the carvers and painters to “we.”
Then, continue: “we reach across time to
you. We were alive, we were here. We loved,
we prayed and hoped and asked, and we moved
through lands layered in beauty and meaning.”
Then, be insistent: “we ask that we be
remembered, and that we be respected.”
We are the Recorders.
Andrew Shattuck McBride