Echoes and Undercurrents conveys the importance of oral tradition and narrative in the creation of cultural and personal identity. David Dawangyumptewa’s mixed-media paintings depict symbolic and mystical imagery central in Hopi narratives, while Debra Edgerton’s richly textured and intricate scrolls synthesize Japanese and African-American nonlinear storytelling.

The exhibition, curated by Alan Petersen, was open at the Museum of Northern Arizona from March 6 through May 25, 2015.

The artists, David Dawangyumptewa and Debra Edgerton are both long-time Flagstaff residents who have each made significant contributions to the local arts community during their time here. Debra Edgerton is a mixed-media artist who has also has taught drawing, painting and other courses in the School of Art at Northern Arizona University. David Dawangyumptewa is also a mixed-media artist who has worked in many capacities at the Coconino Center for the Arts during its early years. Despite each artists’ long-term residency, neither has received significant local acclaim for their technically skillful, visually compelling, and intricate works.

Debra Edgerton and David Dawangyumptewa have very different cultural heritages, but each artist creates work that addresses the importance of oral tradition and narrative in the creation of cultural and personal identity. David Dawangyumptewa is of Hopi heritage. His mixed-media paintings use captivating design and color to depict symbolic and mystical imagery that plays important roles both in Hopi narratives and in the artist’s personal and cultural identity. Debra Edgerton is of African American and Japanese descent. Using natural organic materials from the surrounding region and handmade papers from Japan and Africa, Edgerton creates richly textured and intricate scrolls. Her scrolls synthesize Japanese and African American storytelling with influences from the Colorado Plateau, including ancient rock art. The scrolls act both as metaphors for the fluid nature of oral tradition and as vehicles for Edgerton’s imagery inspired by traditional and archetypal symbols and narratives.

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Echoes and Undercurrents consisted of forty-eight mixed-media works. Edgerton’s were tall, narrow Japanese-style scrolls made of a handmade papers and incorporating a variety of natural objects including seed pods, twigs, leaves, and seeds. Her work presented a tantalizing diversity of rich textures and subtle colors evocative of the natural world and the intimacy of a forest glen. Dawangyumptewa’s intensely vivid watercolor paintings provided a beautiful contrast with Edgerton’s more neutral tones. The design elements and texture of his works proved to be the perfect complement for Edgerton’s and the reverse was also true. It was a visually rich and engaging exhibition. While initially visitors often seemed intrigued by the juxtaposition and contrast of the two artists’ works they came to understand the connection of cultural heritage and the important role that stories play in creating personal and cultural identity.

Comments from visitors to the exhibition, provided by the Museum of Northern Arizona:

“This exhibit was of great interest to me. Just the name Echoes and Undercurrents held great symbolic and metaphoric attributes of the nature of life. Life echoes on the backs or shall I say ‘undercurrents’ of a that once lived, much as ‘echoes’ can be interpreted both to mean the echoes of life itself as well as the spiritual echoes and ripples caused by those and that which once lived. As always I took something away from my trip to the Museum of Northern Arizona, this time an appreciation for the conceptual approaches that two very different cultures used when conveying the ever-contemplated relationship between life and death.”

“The words that Edgerton has written on the strips of paper that flow from these wall hangings capture well the term babbling brook, as if to label the work of art that Edgerton has created here. To me personally, I think the words remind that words, much like water, give us life, especially if they are positive and affirming. We do not walk alone in this life. We intertwine with others, much like the strips of paper that flowed from Edgerton’s wall hangings. After we have parted, what we are left with is usually what the other person said. Words, just like they were in Edgerton’s wall hanging, are written in indelible ink, not to be erased.”

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