SACRAMENTO On Tuesday, May 28th, the Commemorative Seals Advisory Committee will unveil two new circular bronze commemorative State seals, one on each side of the Great Seal of California at the State Capitol. One seal will honor California Indians and the other to honor California’s Spanish and Mexican heritage.
Larry Myers, Executive Secretary of the Native American Heritage Commission, developed the concept for the commemorative seal project. As it was described in a press release, his vision was developed over the many years of watching groups of children admiring the state’s Great Seal while on field trips to the Capitol. He pondered the thought that there should be something there that represents California Indians that could be used as a teaching tool for children to learn the complete history of the state.
The Roman goddess of wisdom, Minerva, represents the States’ Great Seal; at her feet is a grizzly bear and clusters of grapes representing wildlife and agricultural richness. A miner works near the busy Sacramento River, below the Sierra Nevada peaks. The Greek word “Eureka” meaning “I have found it”, probably referring to the miner’s discovery of gold while on field trips to the Capitol.
Myers believed that there should be something that represents California Indians that could be used as a teaching tool for children to learn the complete history of the State.
Myers took his idea to California State Librarian Dr. Kevin Starr, and together they approached Assemblyman and historian Robert M. Hertzberg. In 1998, the Legislature passed Assembly Concurrent Resolution 57 creating the Commemorative Seals Advisory Committee. Their goal was to honor California Indians and California’s Spanish and Mexican heritage.
A Request for Proposal was circulated statewide calling for the design of two seals. It was requested that the designs represent an authentic expression of the cultures being honored; and the vision should reflect indigenous California imagery. In addition, the designs must depict each cultural heritage with authenticity, sensitivity, and imagination.
Robert Freeman, a renowned artist and Luiseno Indian born on the Rincón Indian Reservation in San Diego County, was selected to design the California Indian Seal.
Donna Billick and Susan Shelton, accomplished artists from the Davis area with extensive public art experience, were selected to produce the Spanish/Mexican Seal.
Robert Freeman is a self-taught artist who claims to have had no art training except high school classes. He credits his success as an artist to his wife who provided continual encouragement for a talent she saw waiting to emerge. Robert has accomplished dozens of major projects including, an illustrated book “The Luiseno People,” received numerous public mural commissions, won top awards at the National Indian Art Exhibit, at the American Indian Days in Sheridan, Wyoming, exhibited at a number of important museums and received his teaching credentials from the State of California.
Donna Billick has sustained a 25-year commitment to creating public art. Her “Rock Art” mediums include: ceramic, terrazzo, mosaic, bronze, steel, granite, and cement. She has lived and created tile murals in both Spain and Mexico. She has a MFA in Art from the University of California at Davis, where she was extensively exposed to the ceramic and bronze art history of Mexico and Spain.
Susan Shelton was born in Mexico City to a Mexican mother and an English Father. She earned a degree from UC Davis. Susan has a genuine love of both Mexico and California; like many Mexicans immigrants, she straddles the border in a fluid migration between both cultures.
California Indians are the first Californians, having occupied the land for millennia, but most citizens and visitors to our state do not know this fact or the story of California Indians. California Indians are a diverse people with world-views, traditions, stories and songs, all based on a balanced and respectful relationship with the land and its people.
The Spanish and Mexican eras represent the colonial and first frontier history of our great state. The Spanish empire occupied Mexico in 1521 and entered California in 1769, establishing the Mission system. After winning its independence from Spain, California became Mexico’s northernmost frontier, establishing individual ownership of the land with the Land Grant system. The United States took possession of California from Mexico in 1846, and a historic and cultural bond was created that encompasses the past, present, and future.
California is a result of an entwined California Indian, Spanish, Mexican, and North American heritage and tradition.
Thus, these two permanent commemorative seal monuments will offer an opportunity for citizen and visitor alike to know and appreciate the forebears and founders of this great state.