Retrospect was the name of the show. It was an invitation for artists to look back on Napa Valley’s past and create a visual interpretation of some point in its history.
Not many know, except for perhaps the visitors who pay attention to a bronze sculpture on First Street, that the loudspeaker was invented in Napa in 1917. That is a cool nugget of Napa history, but what about its beginnings? The Wappo indians inhabited the fertile Valley for thousands of years, long before settlers started marching in. When they did, it was the beginning of the end. At the turn of the 18th century, a Mexican and Spanish expedition established a missionary and aimed to convert the Wappo population. By the mid 1800s, the first serious smallpox outbreak occurred, in addition to wars igniting between the missionaries and the Wappo and Pomo tribes. Beginning in 1851 for six years, U.S. troops drove 500 Wappos to the coast. All of these tragedies, severely affected the lives and culture of the tribe.
It is difficult to look back at the beginnings of the Valley’s history, and not feel great sadness for the wonderful people who first inhabited the land. About 100 years after the missionaries came in and stole their voice, the Magnavox was invented. Napa’s future history goes back in time so that their voices can be heard through the “Wappovox”. It sounds silly, but it was very special for me to create.
The mixed media sculpture was first shaped with a curved pipe and a lampshade with an old wine crate as the base. Words of the Wappo language were printed and glued in swirling shapes, alluding to the flowing water of the Napa River. The words of the Wappo travel up the loudspeaker’s neck and project out its mouth to be heard. Tissue paper, collage, paint and wire bring it all together, but what makes the Wappovox very special, are the obsidian flecks that are glued to the base, symbolizing the fertile Valley. The Wappo tribe left behind the flecks while making arrowheads, and hundreds of years later, a ranch house is built at the site where the arrowheads were made. I happened to live there. So many flecks were found as I landscaped the yard, that I filled several jars. I also found a handful of arrowheads and grinding stones, and delivered all the items to Charlie Toledo of the Suscol Intertribal Council for their historical collection. The sculpture was auctioned the night of the reception and proceeds went to the Napa Valley Historical Society. Below, is the Wappovox: