ELDRBARRY'S RAVEN STORY SCREEN
The Story Screen is a colorful backdrop I designed and made for my Raven Stories in 1990. It consists of three fabric panels on frames - together they make a nine by seven foot screen. Similar backdrops were used by Native American storytellers in the Pacific Northwest. It helps provide the atmosphere of the longhouse with its carvings. Descriptions of the various characters portrayed follows.
Though an insatiable glutton and perpetual trickster, Raven is the central and largest figure on the screen and the most prominent character in Northwest Indian tales. A shapechanger and "spirit being," Raven could take any form, though he usually was either in "human" or "bird" form. Considered the creator, he found the first people in a giant clamshell and became their teacher and protector. Raven is often shown with the sun disk in his straight beak, for he placed the stars, moon and sun in the sky. On the screen the large "ovids" that form his wings are "Salmon heads" for he brought the first salmon. One of the main family crests, Raven tops the Seattle Totem pole.
Industrious Beaver is always pictured with the large teeth, the cross hatched tail and often a stick upon which to gnaw. Some of the stories attribute the beginnings of the fish runs to Raven's setting them free from Beaver's lodge. Beaver is a popular ornamental and ceremonial figure in Northwest art.
The "tiniest of Grandmothers and the busiest of busybodies", Mouse Woman is the fairy god-mother of Northwest tales. A "Spirit being", she could instantly change into many forms, though usually either that of a white mouse or a tiny old indian woman. Her big mouse eyes saw everything that happened. Mouse Woman always tried to maintain order and balance, though often she would help a young person in distress, always in exchange for some wool which she would unravel into a tangled "mouse nest".
Eagle can always be recognized by his shorter hooked beak, and crest-like "ears". Eagle down feathers were used ceremonially and symbolized peace. A symbol of power and prestige, Eagle was a popular clan crest.
The Northwest indians drew their life from the sea. The Makah Indians on the Olympic coast were whalers, using Cedar canoes, stone tipped harpoons and seal-skin floats, they were able to take their prey. Killer whale's crest was often carved or painted the bow to invoke its "spirit" to guide them in their hunts. Killer whale can alway be recognized by his tail flukes, dorsal fin, teeth and of course the blow-hole.
Wolf can always be recognized by his canine teeth. long ears and curled tail. Revered as a good hunter, The body of this Wolf is a face that represents the spirit being believed to dwell within the animal form. Such "spirit" faces are often seen within animal forms.
Owl can always be recognized by his distinctive eyes. Owls were often feared and associated with death. But though ever watchful with eyes that never closed and solitary, Owl still was often outwitted by the resourceful Raven who stole the fire from him to give to man.
Bear was always hungry and greedy and always pictured with his distinctive face and a tongue that is alway hanging out. He was usually Raven's enemy. This Bear has taken Salmon, his favorite food. My design was taken from a picture of a wood carving.
Mountain Goats were hunted for their wool which was prized and woven into dancing blankets and made into ear ornaments for Upper Class indians. Mountain Goat is always recognizable by his curved horns and small hooved feet. Offending the Mountain Goat Chief was sure to bring destruction. Coyote, a popular Northwest trickster married Mountain Goat's daughter.
Making the Raven Story Screen
The Raven Story Screen began with an interest in the Northwestern Native Americans and developing a program of storytelling around the Raven.
The entire screen is done in traditional colors using Black, Red, Turquoise and White Felt. Until white man brought his many colored paint box - Northwestern Art was limited to Black (derived from charcoal), White (derived from ground clam shells), and a red and a blue green (derived from ground stones), using egg as a binder.
Most of the designs are my own.
The Raven design was adapted from a sweatshirt by Odin Lonning. As research into my stories progressed, numerous other characters emerged, their designs were developed with some inspiration coming from illustrations or pictures of Northwertern Artifacts. This required my learning about the forms of the Northwestern Native American Art, in particular their use of the eye-like "Ovoids", and the "Split U's" and "S-forms". The forms are not as simple as they appear.
Designs were enlarged by projection onto large sheets of cardboard, Patterns of individual pieces were then traced from these and the many pieces cut from felt. Construction took about two months, and many many hours. The screen is both hand and machine sewn, and the bulk of the work was done by me after some basic instruction by my wife.
The screen has a framework of PCV pipe that allows it to be both portable and quickly set up for "story time". It is self-standing. The Raven Story Screen adds traditional atmosphere to the stories I tell.
Barry McWilliams, Storyteller