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This is Kaw-Liga (after an old Hank Williams song). He stood guard at my grandparents' icecream/deli shoppe in rural north-western Colorado for almost two decades; and even after they sold the business, he was a staple member of the family, from my mother's childhood and into mine.


I realize cigar 'indians' can be problematic, from a social justice lense; but the stereotypical depiction of the 'stoic native' as wooden and unfeeling was never accepted in my grandparents' home. Apart from our own small-but-proud Souix/Lakota heritage, my grandfather was an avid student of First Nation craftsmanship and art, devoting hours upon thousands of hours to it, and befriending many local tribe members for trade and note-swapping. For my grandmother's part (a profoundly adorable woman, full of limericks and charm), she would frequently remind my cousins and I, or any visitors really, to give Kaw-Liga a kiss. He was broken-hearted for a love that never was. Kaw-Liga's face is perhaps one of the first I imprinted on, as a baby; and distinct from other wooden Indians I would encounter over the years. A subtle curl to the corners of his mouth seems to have mysteriously grown over 50+ years, giving him away, hinting at a smile and a blush from all the sweet pecks he's received in his many moons. Since a time when he towered over me, he was always a warm figure.

I am obsessed with how context can add depth to art. Outside of his sentimental, heirloom value, I also think he is a beautifully carved piece of art, weathered by time and love in a way that makes him unique to the world. Remnants of his original hand-painted detailing have given way to the raw wood below, but he still stands proud and inviting. I have sealed him with tung oil, to give him the warm glow he's always had in my eyes. Please treat him with respect.

Below is a Charley Pride cover of the original Hank Williams song.

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