I am excited to have this piece back in my collection after spending the last 3 months in the 4th Annual Scrapel Hill Contest and Exhibition in Chapel Hill, NC, where it won 2nd place. As much as I love this piece, I realize you have to be a certain age to know who this is! I have to be satisfied if the 30-something and younger crowd understands that this is a portrait of “an American Indian”. Little do they know the controversy around that title! It wasn’t until I began work on this Assemblage that I learned the truth- that Iron Eyes Cody was born in Louisiana, the son of Italian immigrants and not of Cherokee/Cree extraction as he claimed. But he married a Native American woman, adopted and raised two Native American children, and devoted the rest of his life to Native American causes. He was generally accepted as one of them. Good enough for me!
What I remember is the famous 1971 Keep America Beautiful ad campaign featuring Iron Eyes Cody as the “Crying Indian”, who paddled his canoe up a trash filled river into a polluted industrial city, landing on a litter-strewn bank. He then walks up to the highway where trash is literally thrown from a passing car onto his feet. His wordless response is a single tear as the commercial ends with the narrator saying “People start pollution; people can stop it.”
I’m not sure when it dawned on me that he was an actor, and this commercial was a job. Having always wanted to be an Native American living in the wilderness, I related to his love of the natural world and his sorrow for man’s disregard of it. The Crying Indian was the face of litter prevention throughout my childhood. In this piece, his face is made from materials that are disposed of daily, objects destined for the landfill. They have been reused and repurposed to remind us “what people start, people can stop”. I am working to teach my family to be mindful of what we use and throw away, but have to admit I still obtain much of the material for my work from home. However, the kids are learning the difference between “good trash” and “bad trash”…