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Annie Olson

"Artist Musings"

Come into my shell with me! My "Artist Musings" will give you an insight into my inner workings and why I create these faux shells and other works of art.

It’s funny how one email can motivate great reflection. So it was for me August 16, 2022. Three months ago the Academy of Motion Pictures made public their formal apology letter to Sacheen Littlefeather. She is the Indian woman who in March of 1973 refused the Oscar Marlon Brando was awarded for his portrayal of Don Corleone in The Godfather.

My husband Phil got an email that morning of August 16 from his brother Dick. Telling him to have me look up the news of this press release. I’ll never forget my shock. As Littlefeather must have also been shocked when she got this formal letter fro The Academy in June

Why would this motivate me to reflect, you ask? Not just little bit. But a great deal. Even as I write these thoughts to accompany this film of the talk I gave at the Holland Museum November 4, 2022, two and a half months later.

Because on March 14, 1972, I along with my first husband Jim Thomas (full blood Tlingit Indian from Yakutat, Alaska), Bob Jim (Tribal Chairman of the Yakima Nation of Washington State) and Doug Smith (friend from Hope College of my husband).

Attended The Godfather Premiere for Marlon Brando. For the same reason Littlefeather refused his Oscar a year later.

This is why I found myself standing in front of over 50 people to relate my experience of attending The Evening with Littlefeather at the Academy Museum theater September 17th.

You can look up on the internet all about these many things I’ve mentioned. Except for one.

As famous as The Godfather was then and still is, there is nothing about us being there for Marlon. Nor about Marlon not attending the very film that revived his career.

Isn’t that strange! I guess the powers that be didn’t want The Westerns examined by American Indian eyes!

Hi from Michigan I just got off the phone with one of your very helpful people. I didn’t catch his name. I explained to him who I am and why I’m contacting you. He encouraged me to write this. This morning (August 16) I learned that The Academy had formerly apologized to Sacheen Littlefeather for the public abuse she’s suffered for almost 50 years now. Like her, I thought I’d never hear this! Hear me why I write this with tears in my eyes! My husband Jim Thomas (full blood Tlingit Indian from Alaska) became friends with Marlon Brando in 1971. Marlon lent his voice to the campaign to get Mt. Adams returned to the Yakima Indian Nation of Washington State. It was signed back by President Nixon in 1972. You can look up the signing with Bob Jim, the Yakima Chairman at the time. Marlon and Jim spent a lot of time together. So I heard a lot about the filming of The Godfather from my husband. So Marlon realized The Godfather was going to generate a lot of public notice, so he asked my husband and I along with Bob Jim and my husband’s best friend Doug Smith to attend the premiere in his place. To use this opportunity to remind people that the Westerns didn’t represent the truth in a fair way. As a child here in Holland, Michigan I watched those movies too. So I knew first hand why Marlon wanted us there. As a young child, I somehow knew how wrong it was of us as a country to do what we did to get to get Land. But I didn’t realize it was what we didn’t do that was far more serious. Jim went to high school and college here in Holland. (1956-1963) We met at the local airport where we both were taking flying lessons. I thought he was a Japanese exchange student. He forgave my error and we married the next year. We moved back to Yakutat, his home village of 300. I was warmly accepted in spite of being white. Adopted into the Eagle Clan. Jim often said I was more Indian than he was. 7 years living in Holland changed him too. We were very involved in the Alaska Native Land Claims. So in 1970 we moved to DC where Jim took over as PR director for the National Congress of American Indians. The next year we started our own pr firm. Jim Thomas associates. The Yakima Nation being our main client to work to get Mt. Adams returned. This is when Jim and Marlon met. Injustice issues were something that Marlon felt deeply about. The side of him that so few people knew about. So Marlon asked my husband and I along with Bob Jim, the Yakima Chairman at the time and Doug Smith, my husband’s best friend to attend the premiere in his place. For the same reason Sacheen Littlefeather refused the Oscar for Marlon a year later. Marlon knew the Godfather would generate lots of publicity. He wanted to use this wisely. So it is no wonder I’m so moved by what The Academy has done. So that is why we were there March 15, 1972. Why a knew ahead of time that Sacheen Littlefeather would refuse the Oscar for Marlon and why. In 1980 Jim and I divorced. I came back to Holland where I grew up with our three children. This is the first place my children ever experienced racism. It hasn’t been easy for any of us. In 1987 that childhood knowing came back. From then on I’ve been doing all I can to help people realize not only what we did but more importantly what we didn’t do. 500 years ago we saw Indigenous culture and wisdom as primitive and useless. We are only now beginning to realize what we lost. We needed their wisdom gained from being Earth Centered to balance our European Way. Many well known people have been saying this now for the past few years. I’m so glad they are. For me, it’s been 35 years now of realizing this. That it is all about The Land. What the CNN segment last Sunday of W. Kamau Bell was all about. The Land Back Movement. The WHY of that movement. Taking better care of The Land! I could say so much more. But in a month Sacheen Littlefeather will be there to converse with you. An apology is great. But that is only a beginning. Hopefully you will continue on. I will close with this. Mark Seals wrote the book on the making of the Godfather last year. He somehow found out that there were Indians at the Premiere. On Google you’ll never find out about us. So he found Jim’s phone number and Jim gave Mark a picture of Marlon and Jim together and details. I found out about this and contacted Mark to share what it had been like for me. But what he heard the most from me was about wishing Paramount and Robert Evans had taken Marlon serious. Ali McGraw was married to Mr. Evans at the time. She was there in April of 1970 at the First Earth Day. They weren’t able to see the obvious. Indigenous Peoples have been saying this for 500 years. If you Abuse the Earth now, you will reap the whirlwind in the future. For all of us. I realize that stories touch people with far more powerful then facts. Sacheen’s story has enormous power. To connect people to what our American System has done to the Planet. And I’m also aware my own story has enormous power too. Why I’m writing it. Please listen to our stories and learn from them. We have paid dearly for the wisdom we’ve become intimate with. So I would remiss if I didn’t contact you now. Seems that maybe a formal apology is due Marlon himself even though he’s been dead a long time now. For making fun of him all these years for refusing the Oscar. His thinking is now seen as wise. And you can’t apologize to Bob Jim either because he died in 1973. But my ex-husband is still alive and so am I. We’ve carried this for 50 years now. I live with the What If. If we’d only tied Earth Day and a fresh look at the Westerns together. Think what power to wake Americans up. 50 years ago. As I said to Mark. I’m haunted by that. That this didn’t happen. If I sound hash, forgive me! But when I see what has happened to Our Shared Earth, it is amazing, my words are so kind. Sacheen speaks of Indian patience and humor. I’m not as good as she is. I’m impatient for children, my grandchildren, my greats. I form seashells of polymer clay now. In 1987 when I woke to what we’d done to Native Peoples and The Earth, I was shamed into quitting being a collector of live marine snails. I now form them of clay collecting them in a guiltless way. This is the power of Knowing what we did and didn’t do. Shame, regret, forgiveness and then positive solutions. When I got up this morning, I felt very discouraged because I’m old and tired. It’s a lonely and painful thing to write my story. Which is really our family story. So few realize yet what was lost 500 years ago. Over and over again. So this is very strange writing this. I’ve pondered writing this hundreds of times. Just didn’t know how the door would open. This is the power of apology. Annie Olson 616-422-3729 Sent from my iPad

Hello, Annie! Congratulations! You have been selected to receive a ticket to the conversation with Sacheen Littlefeather this Saturday at 5 P.M.! Later this evening, you will be receiving your ticket via email. Thank you for your correspondence and enjoy the event! Best, Blake B.

When I found myself on a plane on September 16 of this year going to Los Angeles for the Event at the Academy of Motion Pictures apologizing to Sacheen Littlefeather the next evening, I realized that this article needed to be written when I returned. I just didn’t know how these three days would unfold. Or who would interview me.

A friend called the Holland Sentinel after I returned and said he thought I should be interviewed. So I got a called from Austin Metz and we sat in my favorite Biggby coffee shop. For two hours Austin listened to the whole story of my journey of seeing through White and Red eyes at the same time. I couldn’t have asked for a better person to hear my words. Austin had this rare ability to allow a very safe place for me to speak.

This is the article that he wrote. A complement to the art I create.

My hope that in these troubling times, this article will offer peace. Click the pic for the full article.

By the way, I can’t help but mention what’s on CNN right now. Hurricane Ian hitting as a plus four. Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel-Captiva being hit so hard. Both barrier islands. Where I first fell in love with Gastropoda.

Thanks for visiting our site!

This essay is for you, Robin. But it should be put on the website. And I will also try to write a short take on it for my personal and Essence of the Spiral Facebook.

The other morning I got up early again. 5:30 or so. It’s been a long month. Getting ready for the library demonstration from 2 to 4. And then 5pm at the Yacht club for my 60th high school class reunion. Making the shells, printing text and bagging them. And then the next day a Baha’i conference in Grand Rapids. And the Sunday before a similar conference in Kalamazoo. Doing the shells too. The one a week ago Sunday was long for this 78 year old grandma and great grandma. Bob Hamilton picked me up at 7:15 am and we got home at 8 pm. And Friday the graduation party for Andrew and Matthew. College and high school. Shells to make for giveaways and veggie platter. Not so hard. Just the mental and emotional aspects of all of these different events has really worn me out. Why I have yet to post on the Facebook pages.

So this morning, as most mornings I sit down with a cup of coffee and Miga, our faithful cat on my lap. The sun not yet up. A dialog with my other self. The rider of the two of us.

You see, Robin I’m a talking horse that also knows how to use this iPad to express my thoughts. Which are just as much hers as mine. I realize I need to give my inner person, the other me a name. Which brings me to the name you gave the website.

Essence of the Spiral

Robin, it’s as if you mind melded with me like Mr. Spock of Star Trek. And took that Knowing. And gave my life story a Proper Name.

Essence is such a powerful concept. People should be required to make maple syrup. Taking the sap from a living, healthy maple tree. Collecting lots and lots of wood to burn. Setting up a large pot over the fire and spending hours to boil away most of the water. To “capture” the essence of the maple tree’s Blood. Only then would people be able to grasp a bit of what Essence means. Forming the shells has given me an intimacy with the very Essence of the Spiral as I’ve created each one.

What my experience in October of 1987 was all about. The boiling away of all the water of our history. Of how we got the Land to be America Upon and With.

And the Spiral! Of course! Not about Shells! But the Spiral!

I realized I needed to start with name of the website on Facebook. So I began with the name. The Spiral, the building block of the Universe.

In the meantime last week at that conference, the meeting was closed by a Local Native woman. She spent maybe a half hour sharing and closed with a Smudging and Water ceremony. Which I participated in.

After the ceremony she put the abalone shell and feathers in her bag. During the Smudging, I wondered, “does she know what a live abalone looks like.?” So when a touched it, this awareness was very clear. The need for Indigenous People in America who Smudge to know the live animal that produced the very shell they use to light the sweet grass or sage. And all the money copies they place on their regalia.

The next day or so I looked it up. I knew abalones were overfished. Endangered. But shocked to see all the extreme appropriation in selling. And same on money cowries

Smudge Kits!

So this is what transpired today. A coming together of words I heard over and over again as I formed shells for people. They heard me speak of this animal, a slug, that is able to make a beautiful shell. This lowly, despised life form.

I remember how shocked I was. Taken aback. Couldn’t comprehend they didn’t know.

Person after person thought the shells on the beach were just there to pick up. Like a rock. Or that the hermit crabs made them. The shell museum on Sanibel had the same problem. In their fund raiser to build the aquarium it’s about a shell museum filled with shells unable too. To get people to realize a live animal makes these shells. The need to see the live ones. Handle them.

So here we are as a nation seeing The Land like an empty shell ready for us to pick and enjoy. Oblivious to the reality that The people who’ve cared and nurtured This Land are here and alive.

So we see a galaxy. And look at it as a shell. That just somehow is on the beach. And acting as if no one made the galaxy in the first place.

So this essay is really about The Unknowable Essence that made that galaxy. But most of all created this Force. The Spiral that is the very building block of our Universe.

So we treat the Universe just like those people on the beach. Ignorant of something so clear. That a powerful entity had to exist to create a beautiful shell. Our Milky Way Galaxy. A Spiral Galaxy

So often when I form a shell, one question people ask me is this. “Who taught you to do this?”

As if I was incapable of coming up with this on my own.

This is strange essay to write. Not yet very clear. The metaphor is right there but will require people to chew it for themselves.

So Robin, I can’t thank you enough for not only listening but Knowing with me! Why you alone had the capacity to name Our Site.

Essence of the Spiral

I wanted to write this before I lost the concept. “A galaxy like a empty seashell. Acting as if nothing formed It. Just like ignorant beachcombers.”

With deep love and hugs


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