Monday, October 19, 2009


Yesterday, my sister-in-law Lori sent me one of my brother Paul’s latest paintings. Despite glaucoma and fading eyesight, Paul has resumed painting apace and has rendered some arresting work lately.

A friend of Paul, who is a native American from northern California where Paul lives, often brings Paul fresh salmon as he and Lori enjoy grilling this appetizing fish. I think Paul must have developed an interest in the friend’s background, particularly the history of the exodus of native Americans from that area when Europeans drove them off their land. The painting above depicts native Americans leaving their homes and carries a powerful message of this expulsion. It reminded me of the sad exodus of Acadians who were expelled from Nova Scotia and settled in my native Louisiana, including our Vincent ancestors who were part of this forced migration.

The painting prompted me to investigate the occupation and exodus of the northern California tribes, and I uncovered a familiar story about native Americans being removed from their homes and massacred. Remnants of these native Americans also battled with the government for legal rights, and that battle continues even today. Approximately five percent of the population of the town on the redwood coast where Paul lives are native Americans. Their ancestors were members of tribes that occupied the territory thousands of years before white man invaded and include the Tolowa and Yurok tribes. The Tolowa tribes believed that the homes they built of the fallen redwoods formed a spiritual habitat since the redwoods were spiritual beings that pre-dated human beings and actually taught humans how to live.

During the Red Cap War, Yurok and other native tribes in the northern California area moved to the Hoopa Valley Reservation. Unlike the Chitimacha in my native Louisiana, who live near Charenton, Louisiana, they have preserved their languages, including Yurok and Hoopa dialects. Many of these native Americans are commercial fishermen and deliver groundfish, salmon, mackerel, albacore, and shrimp to the redwood coastal area. The abundance of fish delights Paul who was an avid fisherman and who has a bona fide Cajun appetite for fresh seafood. I can visualize him conversing with the native American who brought him the salmon and ferreting out information about the man’s family and occupation. Paul is a Greenlaw to the core in that he’s garrulous and friendly to everyone he meets. I surmise that some of his encounters have inspired other paintings in his repertoire.

In addition to the fishing industry, Paul must feel at home in northern California because the area once boasted a large lumber industry, and our grandfather Paul and Great-Uncle Ed were heavily engaged in this industry in Louisiana during the early 1900’s. The lumber industry in northern California declined during the mid 1900’s because, by 1960, almost all of the original, great redwoods were gone. However, due to efforts to conserve them, the Redwood National Park now offers tourists a view of these magnificent trees, some of which surround Paul and Lori’s home.

I hope you enjoy the painting. Paul’s love of and use of color has intensified during his seventh decade, and I fully understand his appreciation of bright hues and his impetus to capture the vivid colors of Creation.
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