Saturday, September 22, 2012


Pictograph Panel, Westwater creek, Utah. Photo: Peter Faris, 2001.
We all are aware that according to Native American testimony the imagery on a shield is thought to confer spiritual protection on the bearer. It may illustrate his spirit guide or a dream seen during a vision quest, but in any case the subject matter refers to the bearer’s power and sacred protection. The imagery on a shield is however, more than just a spiritual statement, it is an uniquely recognizable composition. No two shields are likely to have the same decoration as no two warriors could have had the same dream or vision.  That means that portraying the design on a shield is also making a reference to an identifiable person – in other words it is a portrait of sorts. There are a few known instances where one warrior presented or gifted his vision and the imagery referring to it to someone else (or sold it to someone else) and in these cases there would possibly be more than one, but these instances are relatively rare and probably known in their reference group so they still refer to known individuals.

Westwater Creek pictograph panel, right side. Photo: Peter Faris, 2001.

Westwater Creek pictograph panel, left side. Photo: Peter Faris, 2001.

The pictograph panel seen in the illustration is from the upper reaches of Westwater Creek in the Bookcliffs of Utah. The rock art appears to date from prehistoric through historic periods. The prehistoric is indicated by pedestrian shield figures and the historic is represented by later Ute equestrian warriors. On the left side of the illustration there are two pedestrian shield figures, and on the right side two shields are portrayed by themselves. In all of these instances the shields have unique decorative patterns on them. These would have belonged to four different, and identifiable, individuals, and members of the reference group of those individuals (his tribe or clan) would have recognized the pattern and known to who the shield belonged. In this fashion the shield can be seen as a shorthand reference to a particular individual, an identifying design. Those shields do not represent four anonymous warriors, they serve as a portrait of sorts for each of their owners, and the pictograph panel then could be seen as a portrait gallery, the place where notable individuals from that group are commemorated.

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