Story Flag Origins
How Did You Think of the “Story Flag”?
The origins of this question began in 2001, when I first received a “Story Stick” as a thank-you gift from a Clayton Duncan. Clayton is a member of the Pomo tribe in Northern California, he gave this to my son and I in appreciation of my son, Eric making a history day film about a United States Army massacre that killed 150 to 300 members of his tribe in 1850 about 14 miles from our house.
For years, the “Story Stick” was a coffee table item in our house. In 2005, I began to record the video histories of people with disabilities and by 2008 I had recorded 548 of these from sixty-one cities across America. The project had acquired its final name of “It’s Our Story” and I wanted to create something Artsy and Big to celebrate and pay homage to the 548 voices that now resided in the archive.
It just kind of all came together, It’s Our Story and a Story Stick on the coffee table. Make one for each person, attach a photo of them, list the city they’re from and Voila, instant homage. In hindsight, that was the easy part, it would be another nine months before the Story Flag evolved into its current form.
But first, I had to call Clayton and ask him if I would get into any trouble with the tribe? I asked Duncan; “Can a white guy re-purpose a use for the story stick and make something “BIG” out of them contrary to traditional use”. Clayton roared a deep belly laugh and said Scott; you’re more Indian than most in my tribe. Don’t worry, do what you feel needs to be done. I responded, is there anything I can’t or shouldn’t do?
I didn’t want to create something that could be interpreted as taboo. Clayton reassured me that there was nothing that I could do that would offend anyone as long as you let the Great Spirit guide you. And with that blessing, I was clear to proceed manifesting the vision of the making something BIG with the Story Sticks and faces of the disability community attached to them.
First Thought, Not Always the Best
At first I wanted to engineer a gigantic Continental United States and divide it into the nations 17 watersheds, a big feather puzzle, grouping the voices by what every citizen in that geographical region has in common, “the water they drink”. After a couple of weeks, doing this, trying that, I came to the conclusion I didn’t have the engineering aptitude to make it mobile or spectacular.
It was January of 2008 and the political drama of an Presidential election year was already on all the news channels. So soon and I wanted to create something that said ‘Hey, look at all these voices that should be heard and accessible to all”. There’s an old saying among artists “that if your’re not sure you can make it well, make it big”, a lot of our museum collections can attest to the validity of that wisdom.
I didn’t know what form these Story Sticks would take, I did know that I could make the Story Sticks. The form would eventually show itself to me. In February of 2008, a month was used to collect the materials to produce 61 dozen Thats a lot of material, 2,500 feathers, 30 kilos of beads, 4,000 feet of sinew, 600 feet of bamboo, 6,000 feet of thread, and 150 square feet of leather remnants. These items were sourced out through the Internet, on Ebay, in second-hand stores, fabric stores, remnant piles of a local tannery, craft stores, and garage sales.
Being an avid hiker, I already a fine collection of feathers acquired over years in the bush and wanted to create a bridge between my Europeon culture and the Native American culture. That bridge was a white turkey feather, Benjamin Franklins choice for our national bird. I always had an attraction to this feather because of its connection to the great American documents it penned. So I decided early on that each one of the Story Sticks would have one of these.
A Lull Before the Storm
In March, I took my first respite from It’s Our Story since its inception in July of 2005. I toured South America with Eric experiencing some once in a lifetime events made possible by his Grandfather Vernon. I returned home refreshed, inspired, and motivated, ready to weave, bead, and feather for what I estimated would be 6 weeks. It turned into 4 months.
The Ah-Ha! Moment
Really wasn’t a moment at all, I was 6 weeks into making the Story Sticks, having about 25 dozen complete. They were everywhere, bunched into neat bouquets of a dozen apiece, in vases around the house, on wires suspended in the studio, and neatly nestled in boxes on bookshelves.
I have to give a lot of credit to my friends and family who had to live with this invasion of the feathers, leather, and beads. Our living space was becoming pretty tribal and they were beginning to question my mental well being. Most of the credit goes to the news shows coverage of the election because that is what I watched, day in and day out, as I wove, beaded, and feathered these Story Sticks.
As the months progressed, the election season of 2008 and its partisan bickering just got stronger and stronger, the airwaves were flying flags everywhere. And it was just that simple. Of course, what else could our Story Sticks and faces be but an American Flag. If I could just get these Story Sticks done and flag made. I would take our Story Flag and chase the candidates around with it to get some exposure about making these American voices “accessible to all”. Then after the election season, I could use it bring attention to our mission at disability community events everywhere.
That’s just the way creativity works sometimes. You have a starting point and sometimes you just have to trust your instincts that a finishing point will show itself. The “build it and they will come” strategy works for those who have faith, confidence, and vision. Just start on what you can do and that will teach you about something you would never have learned without that trust in yourself.