Tawonka Tobacco

A few years back, my wife Loretta and I were visiting our good friends the Troy’s at their Oakland Hills home.  They have a big Mediterranean-Style house that has a breathtaking view of the entire San Francisco Bay Area.  But what really makes this house fun, is that George is a collector and Susi is a master gardener.  On the side of house, George has set up chess set with huge white and black tiles with near life-size chess players.  In the front of the house he is building a replica of some ruins in Rome.  Giant wooden-carved gates and pillars from Thailand lead into the garden.  It seems that everywhere you look you find some treasure.

But what grabbed my imagination was a large statue of an Indian he had perched on the upstairs porch.  It was over six feet tall and had a very authentic Northeast Woodlands Indian look.   It was sprayed with dark gray paint which gave it the appearance of stone (it’s made of fiberglass).  I asked where it came from and he told me that there was a southern franchise called “Cheaper Cigarettes” and at one point each of the eighty-two stores had one of the statues which they would roll out to the sidewalk like they did with the old cigar store Indians.  He said he bought it at an auction.   I told George if it was mine,  I’d turn it into an authentic-looking piece of art.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo my surprise I found the statue on my porch a few weeks later with a sign on it that simply read, “Happy Thanksgiving and can’t wait to see what you do to it.  Your friend George.”   I did the artwork for a book called, “Sootface, An Ojibway Cinderella Story.”   I still had a file of all my research for the book and decided that I would turn this statue, titled “Chief Tawonka,” into an Ojibway (Chippewa, Great Lakes) warrior.  I spent a lot of time with steel wool, sandpaper and paint, but when it was completed it became, without doubt, my favorite possession.  It now sits as the centerpiece in our living room.