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Using Art to Preserve the Past and Celebrate the Future

Chukchansi Artist Works with Fresno Flats to Preserve Indigenous History

Oakhurst – Fresno Flats Historical Village and Parks celebrates the beginnings of Oakhurst, when it was known as the museum’s namesake. But the museum does more than that. Fresno Flats residents, as the town established in 1856 as a farming, mining and logging community was called, were not the first to settle this area. In fact history here goes back thousands of years to the indigenous nations who called the area home, including the Chukchansi, Miwok and Mono nations, to name a few.

To celebrate that indigenous heritage, Fresno Flats Historical Park & Museum offered young Chukchansi/Miwok artist Shonna Alexander the opportunity to paint a mural depicting her ancestors’ history in the Nathan Sweet room. She and the young Fresno Flat docents are now engaged in video recording the mural process as an exhibit to accompany the art, so visitors can understand the meaning and purpose behind the mural. Although Shonna works in a variety of media, she used acrylic paints in this process.

Shonna Alexander in regalia

In her twenties, Shonna believes it is vital for her and others of her heritage to recognize, remember and record remember her people’s past. If they don’t remember, who will? If they don’t preserve, who will? Few elders speak the native languages now, and Shonna is studying to become fluent herself so that the words, stories and images are not lost.

Shonna began creating art as a small child, and her family has always supported her in her creative endeavors. She finds her inspiration in her culture and its language.  She says, “I’ve learned so much from my family and elders and keeping our language, culture, our way of life alive is what drives my creativity. Drawing and painting is just one of the ways I am able to express how beautiful and important our culture is.”

With her art she strives to let others know that the original people of this land still exist, and she sees a personal mission to assist in reclaiming her people’s identity. “Our people are rooted in these lands, and it has always been our home, it’s very important for people to know that.”

Although Shonna says she’s learned through trial and error, she’s been taking classes since she was a freshman at Yosemite High School. She further studied at the Oakhurst Community College, and Clovis Community College, most of her teachers, and professors are local to the area. She earned an Associate in Arts degree in two-dimensional art in 2017.

In addition to acrylics, Shonna works with oil, charcoal, oil pastels, watercolor and many other forms of wet and dry media. She says that watercolor and paint markers are her current favorites.

An example of Shonna’s ledger art

About her recent work, Shonna says, “I’ve made many California-Native inspired Ledger Art pieces, which I’ve turned into cards, prints and t-shirts at one time. Lately most of my work is done in my sketchbooks, most of it is done in watercolor and ink pens. I’ve also turned some of my artwork into stickers, which has been a fun process. I’ve had a few art pieces that were featured in museum exhibitions at the Roseville Maidu Museum, along with some recent online exhibitions.”

She intends to continue creating artwork inspired by her culture so those observing it can learn a bit about the Indigenous people who have lived and continue to live on this land. Her goal is to write and illustrate children’s books in Chukchansi.

“Besides drawing, learning and teaching the Chukchansi language is one of the most important things to me. I want our tribal youth to have books in their language so that they can learn some of the Chukchansi language. I see myself creating a lot of personal artwork, drawing and painting is very special to me and I enjoy making artwork for myself as well.”

The mural in process

Visitors can see Shonna’s mural first-hand at the Fresno Flats Historical Park & Museum, and her video should be available to accompany it soon.

Fresno Flats is located at 49777 Road 427, Oakhurst, at the corner of Indian Springs Road. Current hours are 10 am to 4 pm daily. For inquiries or to ask about volunteer opportunities, call 559/658-6570 or email them at fresnoflatsmuseum@gmail.com.


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