I have been a Pitzer student for a little over a year now, and although I have passed by the Edgar Heap of Birds signs dozens of times, I regret to say that I have never attempted to learn about the meaning – until now. Sure, the signs caught my attention and I questioned what they meant. They truly stand out, with their simple white backing and bold blue font (as well as, of course, the backwards “California” Today Your Host is ___________ message which superficially seems to be so peculiar).
Looking deeper into the art+environment project, Edgar Heap of Birds, I have learned more about the signs’ origin and intent. The artist, Edgar, wanted to perplex students’ emotions, so that they wonder and start to investigate the meaning behind the installation. Knowing this now makes me disappointed in myself for not researching the art more in my first year at Pitzer. The native words that appear after the backwards California, Today Your Host is, are sacred places – mountains, rivers, village sites, etc. that lived in the land that we now occupy.
I really appreciate that Pitzer’s art department, with help from a Mellon grant, chose to bring Edgar Heap of Birds onto campus to create this art installation and spark curiosity and wonder for the Tongva tribe and other Native peoples who lived in this area before it was developed into what it is today. It’s incredibly important to have a connection to the people, culture, and community that preceded us in this beautiful land. I think that now that I know the meaning behind the blue signs, I will have a different reaction when I see them. It is a bittersweet feeling. I feel fortunate to go to a school where the students, staff and faculty have an appreciation for art, the environment and the native people who lived here before us. However, it’s also a harsh reminder of the terrible stripping of land that took place all over the beautiful land that is now developed into a mega-urban sprawl. Despite the upsetting reminder of what settlers did to this area (as well as most other areas in America), I’m glad that this art installation gives us all an appreciation for this sacred land that was respected, loved and cherished by the Tongva people.