Gerald Clarke Jr., Indian artist, runs about 65 head of cattle on his family's Cahuilla Reservation land near Anza in Riverside County. It's a balancing act, he says, especially during drought years, trying to match the size of the herd with the ability of the land to support it. In these dry years, 65 seems to be a sustainable number.
Clarke, 45, recently invested in a hay rake and baler and put up 1,000 bales this summer. There aren't many SoCal Indians left so committed to raising cattle, but Clarke's father was a cattleman, so he's bent on keeping up the family tradition. As a result, Clarke is equally comfortable with a paintbrush in hand, daubing acrylics on canvas, or wielding a pair of wire cutters restringing a barb wire fence. He's a working man. He plants orchards, splits cords of wood to heat his home, holds an annual round-up to brand his cattle, teaches art at Idyllwild Arts Academy, creates award-winning works of art. In 2007, he won the prestigious Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art. He's an Indian cowboy with art on his mind.
Gerald Clarke Jr.
Ask him what his preferred medium is -- painting, drawing, sculpting, performance art (he's done it all) -- he'll say "the kitchen sink." He's a wild card, always experimenting, always switching it up. Once he made a series of road signs for the Cahuilla Reservation emblazoned with words from the Cahuilla language, words like Nesun e' elquish ("I am sad"), Nextaxmuqa ("I am singing"), Kimul Hakushwe ("The door is open"), Ivawen ("Be strong.") He placed them near his ranch road and at random roadside spots on the reservation. It was his off-beat version of an artsy statement, but he was hoping the signs might lend a little cultural pride to the place.
The fate of road signs on a reservation is dicey. Many of them get shot up, a handy target for target practice, and many of Clarke's artwork signs weren't spared. Except one. It was stolen, dug up by its concrete base and trucked off. Clarke was secretly pleased that a local coveted his sign. Even better, he put the word out that he'd like it back, and it anonymously reappeared. That is a reservation rarity.
These days, Clarke Jr. lives in his late father's reservation home, with his wife of more than 20 years, Stacy, and their daughters. Emily and Lily. Emily likes to read, and to write. Next year she's hoping to attend the Idyllwild Art Academy where Clarke teaches art and is chairman of the arts department.