California Dreaming

California Dreaming

When Spain’s Juan Cabrillo encountered the thriving Native American Chumash villages

on the Channel Islands off of the California Coast in 1542, he noted an advanced society of skilled mariners with highly developed trade networks,

shell bead money, and Tomol boats used for travel and hunting. Their vessels were up to thirty feet long, built of redwood planks glued with pine pitch and hardened tar,

sanded smooth with sharkskin, and fastened with cordage made from tule reeds.

They could carry up to twenty men, were paddled in a crouching position, and traveled up and down the coast and out to offshore islands.

The Chumash created many impressive rock paintings that survive to this day.

One would assume these paintings would document their way of life with images depicting the marine animals they hunted, the waters they navigated

and the boats in which they traveled; however, the complex abstract pictograms they left behind remain indecipherable.

They are thought to be expressions made by Chumash shaman under the influence of powerful hallucinogens used in magico-religious ceremonies.

Perhaps they are the first manifestations of marine art on the West Coast, painted in a psychedelic mode

for an audience from the spirit realm. Regardless of their meaning, these were the first plein air paintings in California.

Over the next few hundred years, the Chumash culture was suppressed and nearly lost completely, as their territory was colonized and then overwhelmed in the 1850s by the mass migration caused by the Gold Rush.

In 1869 the completion of the transcontinental railroad connected the remote California coast with the rest of the United States, opening up a market for agriculture from the fertile valleys.

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