History lesson: The artist of a series of Nisenan paintings explains the whirling logs symbol to the public | TheUnion.com

History lesson: The artist of a series of Nisenan paintings explains the whirling logs symbol to the public

Sam Corey
Staff Writer

In February, Jenny Hale presented her art work of the Nisenan tribe, and displayed it outside the Camelot Gallery on Broad Street.

The art was conducted in collaboration with tribal spokesperson Shelly Covert.

Since then, her art work has been removed from the building’s facade, but one piece from her series called “Guardians of the Dance” was placed outside Asylum Down and California Gold.

As part of Nevada City’s Village Market Day on Sunday, Hale explained her work to a small group of pedestrians. The artist said she wanted to explain the whirling logs symbol, a swastika, which was later co-opted by the Third Reich and used in promotion of Nazi Germany.

“I’m just happy to explain it and bring it back to what it was,” she said. “We’re reclaiming it.”

Hale said the whirling logs symbol is one of the oldest examples of Native American culture. First discovered as an artifact around 350 B.C. in Hopewell Mound, Ohio, it has been used on dance belts, beadwork, basketry pottery and more for many tribes including the Iroquois, Sioux, Comanche, Apache, Navajo and Nisenan. The symbol has also historically been used in association with a few different religions in India.

The owner of California Gold and Asylum Down, Peggy Peterson, said since the art work was placed on display in early March it has fielded good reception.

“We’ve really felt that we’ve had more positive response than negative,” said Peterson.

Employee Cay Fisher agreed.

“In the time it’s been here, I’ve only had one person come in and voice distress about it,” she said.

While drawing the art work, Hale said the symbol evolved so much in her mind she forgot about it’s appropriated past and had re-contextualized to its original state.

“I haven’t gotten a lot of push back,” said Hale, who noted the only people who find it discomforting are some of her Jewish friends.

When this piece is removed from outside Asylum Down, Hale is considering publicly placing her other Nisenan art work around the county with the permission of the tribe.

She hopes her work continues to manifest itself the way it did this past February: as a doorway into the natural world.

Contact Sam Corey at 530-477-4219 or at scorey@theunion.com.

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