Tree People 1980-1990

Betty Ann Brown, art historian and curator

Constructed of handmade paper on armatures of bent branches, the Tree People range from a singular head with a profile recalling the Maya Indians of Southern Mexico, to a ghostly deer skull with spiny twig antlers, to a haunting face with tangled roots for a head. Tree People can be considered totems, that is, emblems for the mythic beings that watch over or protect groups of humans.

Vallejo’s Tree People resemble totemic depictions of the Native Americans who live on the Northwest Pacific Coast of Alaska, Washington and Oregon. Northwest Coast totem poles are tall cedar posts carved with stacked symbolic images that are erected outside ceremonial long houses.

The word ‘totem’ comes from Ojibwa, one of the languages spoken by Native Americans from the Great Lakes area. Ototeman means ‘he is of my clan’ and refers to the creature believed to be a tribe’s ancestor or guardian.