Sunday, February 15, 2015


Among the marvelous Fremont culture rock art at McConkie Ranch outside Vernal, Utah is the figure known as Bigfoot Man. Done in what Polly Schaafsma called the Classic Fremont Style this figure presents us with an example of a beginner’s mistake. I started my working career by teaching art at a few colleges and my curriculum responsibilities usually included life or figure drawing. Anyone who has actually taught art will recognize this panel immediately as a common error made by beginning students in figure drawing. What it represents is someone starting to draw the figure on a scale that is too large for the surface. Depending upon where the student started the head may be too big for the rest of the body, or some other portion may be seen as outsized. Then they recognize that they have to change the scale to fit the rest of the figure onto the surface. In the case of Bigfoot Man the artist ambitiously began with a pair of large feet and quickly realized that he had to reduce the scale of the rest of the figure to fit onto the chosen rock face.

Some other points to note in this panel; the figure has been given knobby knees which I interpret as an attempt to realistically portray the patella, or knee-cap, and he is shown with six fingers on his hand (polydactylism again). Finally, notice that not only is this panel pecked, but paint has then been added as well, particularly in his headdress. It is an example of mixed-media. Many of the students in my former classes would actually have been happy to have done so well in their initial attempts. This figure is portrayed with details of clothing and headdress as well as weapons. He has a spear or something on his back projecting up above his right shoulder, and he holds a club or axe in his left hand.

Funny looking - yes? This is, however, diagnostic of a situation in which the creation of rock art was actually being taught to someone, and probably critiqued by the teacher. In our culture we call that an art school and it suggests a high degree of sophistication in the Fremont culture as well as providing clues as to how their rock art was produced.

NOTE: This material had originally been posted a couple of years ago but I deleted it in order to update it and add  additional information.

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