Between the Sun and the Moon: Illuminating the Tongva Legacy at San Dimas City Hall

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Norine Holguin

8/27/20234 min read

Hidden within the heart of San Dimas, California, there exists a remarkable piece of art that weaves together the threads of history, culture, and the enduring spirit of the land. This 7' by 45' bas-relief cast stone artwork adorns the northwest outside wall of the San Dimas City Hall, serving as a powerful tribute to the region's original inhabitants: the Tongva people, also known as the Gabrielino Indians. These peace-loving people settled in this land over 7,000 years before the first Europeans arrived, and their legacy continues to shape the community to this day.

A Glimpse of Solitude: The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island

As you stand before this awe-inspiring sculpture, you are greeted by a mesmerizing representation of the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island. Positioned between symbols of the sun and moon, her face and flowing hair seem to whisper tales of solitude and resilience. Her story, etched into the stone, harks back to her period of isolation on the most remote of California's Channel Islands.

The Tongva: A Year in the Sun's Embrace

Beneath the Lone Woman's gaze, twelve individual panels unfold a vivid narrative, one that tells the story of the Tongva people and their profound connection with the land and the celestial bodies above. The name "Tongva" itself reflects their deep-rooted bond with the earth, as it means "people of the earth" in their own language.

These twelve vignettes along the bottom of the mural are like chapters in a book, each marking a season in the sun's embrace. Four of these panels pay tribute to the summer and winter solstices, as well as the spring and autumnal equinoxes – significant dates that guided the Tongva in their understanding of the changing seasons.

The remaining eight panels unveil the daily activities and rituals that wove the fabric of Tongva life. Here, you can glimpse their vibrant culture and the reverence they held for the natural world. It is a tale of harmony and balance, where every sunrise and sunset marked a step in life's intricate dance.

A Bridge Across Time: The Flowing Hair of the Lone Woman

The Lone Woman's hair gracefully flows into the bottom narrative panels, creating a visual bridge that links the ends of the mural to each other. It is a metaphorical completion of life's cycle, a reminder that every ending is but a new beginning. As the seasons change, as life moves forward, the spirit of the Tongva endures, connecting past, present, and future.

A Dedication to Memory and Community

"This mural, "Between the Sun and the Moon," is a tribute to a people who have lived in this region for more than 7,000 years. Their descendants call themselves the Tongva, meaning "people of the earth." They are also known as the Gabrielino Indians, so known to have been at Mud Springs, in San Diams. The upper portion of the mural portrays a Tongva woman known as Juana Maria. She was the legendary Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island who had been stranded alone on that distant channel of Southern California. When her island community was relocated by ship to the mainland, she stayed behind to search for her missing child. Her fate unknown, she survived 18 years in complete isolation until she was finally rescued in 1853. In this mural she symbolizes the courage, devotion to family, self-reliance, and survival of the Tongva people. The lower sixteen panels narrate the annual cycle of the Tongva life, rituals, and divisions of the year."

Between the Sun and the Moon stands as a testament to the power of memory and community. This profound public art project was dedicated in memory of Richard Snyder, whose family made a significant contribution to its realization. Esther Snyder, Richard's mother, played an instrumental role and was a valued member of the Festival of Arts Board of Directors for many years.

The Tongva community, led by Cindy Alvitre of the Ti'at Society and Jimi Castillo, the unofficial Spiritual Leader, offered invaluable support in bringing this project to life. The San Gabriel band of Tongva also extended their support, bridging the gap between history and the present.

Ken Sheffer, the chairman of the Festival's public art committee, orchestrated this remarkable journey from inception to dedication, embodying the spirit of collaboration and dedication.

The Vision of an Artist: Steven Rieman

At the heart of this masterpiece is the vision of the artist, Steven Rieman. His work raises essential questions about the delicate balance between advancing technology and preserving the natural world. In a world captivated by the possibilities of high-tech progress, Rieman reminds us of the peril of neglecting the environment.

His art combines methods, materials, and ideas to express the contrast and relationship between these competing influences. The result is a delicate equilibrium, a reminder that the smallest changes can tip the scales. Steven Rieman's journey led him through the corridors of Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, where he honed his craft.

In Conclusion

Between the Sun and the Moon stands as a timeless testament to the enduring legacy of the Tongva people, the profound connection between humanity and the land, and the delicate balance between technological advancement and environmental preservation. As you stand before this magnificent mural on the walls of San Dimas City Hall, take a moment to reflect on the rich tapestry of history and culture that has shaped this land. It is a story that continues to unfold, bridging the gap between past, present, and future, just like the flowing hair of the Lone Woman.

Citation:

Rieman, Steven. “Between the Sun and the Moon.” Public Art - Between the Sun and the Moon, San Dimas Festival of Arts , www.sandimasarts.org/public_art/PA_02-between-the-sun-and-the-moon.html.

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