An exhibit of abstract paintings by Pete Ethan Castro is now on display at the Mendocino County Museum.
Castro has deep roots in Mendocino County; he was born in Ukiah and is a member of the Wailaki Tribe of Round Valley. For the past three decades he has worked as a traditional Native American scholar, California Indian Basket Weaving artist and contemporary painter — using acrylic, mixed media and abstract forms.
Castro’s striking work reflects his own deeply personal journey and depicts Mendocino County Native American segregation, co-evolution, assimilation, enculturation, art and influence.
As children, both of Castro’s parents were sent to the Round Valley Indian School. His father attended high school at the Sherman Institute of California in Riverside.
One of his paintings, “School Daze — Outside The Box” (36”x48” acrylic on cradled panel board) represents his parents’ experience of forced assimilation. This piece is currently on display at Sacramento’s California Museum, part of its Signature Exhibits.
Some of the paintings that will be on display at the Mendocino County Museum further explore the tension of assimilation, including “Take Off Your Feather and Come Inside” (12”x12” acrylic on canvas), which features an Indian man wearing a fluffy pink apron, posing with a “bulls-eye” lollipop and a red balloon.
In “Evictions & Obituaries” (12”x12” mixed media on canvas), a solitary Native American figure stands in front of blocks of obituary news text, evocative of tenement apartments, recalling the widespread displacement caused by forced relocations and tribal disenrollments.
Three blocks of color fields form “Merge With Caution” (48”x60” mixed media on panel board), Castro’s attempt at reconciling dueling cultural and personal identities.
In 2014, Castro contributed work to the Oakland Museum of California for its California Native Exhibit (deer antler awl with dogbane cordage and abalone shell ornament), and in 2012 his paintings were featured in a solo exhibit at the Risk Press Art Gallery in Sebastopol.
He has partnered with the Cultural Conservancy as the lead builder on the California Canoe Project (traditional Tongva Ti’iat), and his current focus is developing a native grasses/fibers garden to harvest for basket-weaving materials for community artists, tribal elders and himself.
Since returning to Ukiah two years ago, Castro has been sharing his native Wailaki language and offering prayer at community events. He was recently a keynote speaker at Howard Memorial Hospital’s annual Prayer Breakfast and at Ukiah Valley Medical Center’s first and second annual Survivors Reunion.
“Reservations Not Required — Returning Home” is an extension of Woven Worlds, the Museum’s exhibit of Native Peoples of Mendocino County. There is a special space in the exhibit dedicated to showcasing the work of contemporary, local Native American artists.
It is important for any exhibit about California Native Americans to convey that Indians are part of our community today. Native American art is not something only from the past. Highlighting these artists ensures that we help keep traditions and cultures very much alive.
The Mendocino County Museum is at 400 E. Commercial St. in Willits. For more information, call 459-2736, Info@MendocinoMuseum.org, or visit www.MendocinoMuseum.org. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.