Ishi ~ 24th & Broadway

A wall over-looking a gas station parking lot is a surprising place for such a riveting mural as this one titled, Ishi, painted by Alex Forster (aka Cabrón). Cabrón was selected amongst a pool of entrants in a mural contest by the non-profit organization, Valley Vision, for the 16′ x 80′ external wall of their office building (which is next to the gas station).

The Art:

The contest called for a mural reflecting the Sacramento Valley, and Cabrón focused his piece on the history of the valley:

I wanted to do something about the past of the Sacramento Valley. The first thing that came to my mind was the Californian Gold Rush, the epiphany of the American Dream, which drew tens of thousands of people from all over the world to this area.

The clash with the Native American Peoples and subsequent permanent demographic changes that resulted from this fateful event in American/Californian history is best represented by “Ishi, the last of the Yahi”, who was called the last “savage” alive when he first emerged from the wilderness. (1)

Cabrón’s mural invites us into the story of what happened to Ishi, his tribe, tribes throughout California, and Native American peoples across the entire continent when Europeans arrived in mass numbers. It was indeed a “permanent demographic change” that deserves our willingness to face the deeply disturbing events that happened in the Sacramento valley and throughout the United States.

The History:

One hundred years ago in August of 1911, Ishi appeared on a farm in Oroville unable to speak English or a known Native language (2). He was cited for vagrancy and put in the Butte County jail, but was released when anthropologists from San Francisco were able to identify him as a member of the Yana trip in the Deer Creek region (about 30 miles north west of Chico) (3). Ishi spent the remainder of his life at the University Museum in Berkeley and then at the San Francisco Anthropology Museum (4). He developed a relationship with the anthropologists who were appointed as his guardians, Alfred L. Kroeber and T. T. Waterman, and through him, they learned the story of the decimation of the Yahi people.

The tale Ishi told was grim. The Yana peoples suffered the complete loss of their lands and way of life when the Americans came during the Gold Rush… Ishi used to refer to the time of the American arrival as ‘when the stars fell.’ (5)

The Yahi initially numbered around 400. Lacking firearms, they were destroyed by four raids by armed white settlers. On August 6, 1865, seventeen settlers raided a Yahi village at dawn. In 1866, more Yahis were massacred when they were caught by surprise in a ravine. Around 1867, thirty-three Yahis were killed after being tracked to a cave. Finally, around 1868, four cowboys trapped about thirty Yahis in another cave. (6)

While still a child sometime in the 1870′s, Ishi’s own father was killed in a village massacre. The boy and his mother escaped by jumping into a nearby river. The Yahi who fought to preserve their territory against unequal odds and long range rifles were slaughtered until only a remnant band of 40 or so remained. The survivors of this tiny band hid successfully for nearly forty years, undetected by the outside world.” (7)

The decimation of the Yani people is mirrored in tribe after tribe throughout the history of the Gold Rush and the history of the European migration across America.

The Artist:

Cabrón spent his first 19 years in Vienna, Austria. Since then, he’s been on the road often but always doing art; comics for awhile and then, in his late twenties, he shifted to painting (8). Eventually he made his way to Sacramento, and his gallery page on A Bitchin’ Space describes the back-story for that move:

Cabrón, being an old school cynic from Vienna, firmly believes in the power of irony and consciously decided to move to Sacramento, the “city of gold”, at the height of recession and job scarcity in order to be a full time artist. (9)

In an interview with KVIE, Cabrón speaks to his experience with creating public art:

Public art is so accessible for everyone, anyone can enjoy it. It humbles me too because then I realize the full extent of my work, that I actually can touch someone with a piece of art. that’s what I love the most about it – is the interaction with people. (10)

Valley Vision:

Valley Vision is an ‘action tank’ that is “dedicated to securing the social, environmental and economic health of the Sacramento Region.”

Civic leadership at a regional scale: Valley Vision is a nonprofit association of people and organizations working to secure the social, environmental and economic health of the Sacramento Region. Founded in 1994, we are an objective, nonpartisan “action tank” committed to regional problem-solving as well as impartial research for sound decision-making. We act as a bridge, uniting neighbors and organizations that together can make a real difference in our communities.

Title: Ishi
Artist: Alex Forster (aka Cabrón) (
Date: 2010
Media: Paint
Location: 24th & Broadway

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(4) (

Califia ~ 15th & Capitol

“Califia, the Amazon-like Queen of the mythical island, Califia, after which California was named…. She is a spirit of cleansing, mending, and healing. She is Yemaja, an African Diaspora deity who is the mother of all waters and the spirit of patient creativity.”

A beautiful description by artist, Alison Sarr, of the striking figure of Califia which stands in the foyer of the state building at 15th & Capitol.

The Art:

She is carved from wood and covered in oxidized copper. Califia herself stands about 6′ tall and with about 7′ of bundles on her head, the entire sculpture is nearly 14′ (1).

Susan Shelton also created a piece inspired by Queen Califia and, although it is a different piece entirely, her description of the piece resonates with my experience of Saar’s:

I see Califia [as]… encompassing powerful and enduring symbols for us as Californians—Abundance; Strength; Life; Beauty; Diversity, Stewardship–and I was inspired to create a piece that would be an expression of my love of California, and a tribute to the mythical Queen who graced our state with her name [and her blessings]…. Implicit in the celebration of these gifts, I think, is the admonishment for Stewardship. Queen Califia calls on us to nurture and protect our extraordinary California.(2)

The Artist:

Saar grew up in the LA area in a family full of art; her mother is a well-known artist, her father an art conservator, and her sisters are all artists (3). Her work is often highly personal, a critic once called her work ‘banal’ and in this video, she agrees with the critique saying that she is a mom and drives a van and her work often speaks to what she is struggling with in life, but, she says, “that doesn’t mean that we who are banal can’t have really truthful and wonderful experiences”. This quote by art critic Rebecca Epstein describes the nature of Saar’s work:

“Saar juggles themes of personal and cultural identity as she fashions various sizes of female bodies (often her own) that are buoyant with story while solid in stance. [Her works often embody a] balance of strength and tenderness, in form and idea.” (4)

Title: Califia
Artist: Alison Saar
Date: 2003
Media: Wood and Copper
Location: 1500 Capitol (inside the foyer)

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