A Bouquet Of Paintbrushes For Mother Mary

I knew it would come to me if I was patient and didn’t think about it too much.

And that’s just what happened this morning as I was piecing together my Shibori Hankie Quilt. I had the idea that a flower should be growing from my Mother Mary’s praying hands.  But which flower? That was the question running just under the surface of my consciousness.

Then it popped into my head, Indian Paintbrush.  Perfect because of the paintbrush reference connecting Mother Mary to Sue Silverstein’s art room.

I stopped what I was doing and googled Indian Paintbrush finding its proper name to be Castilleja.  Then I dug deeper having a feeling that the name “Indian Paintbrush” like the name “Wandering Jew” for the spiderwort houseplant,  was derogatory.

(Jon recently bought me an Inch Plant, which I knew from my childhood as a Wandering Jew.  I had the same feeling about the name of that plant when I said it out loud to Jon. When Jon researched it he found its origins were anti-Semitic ).

I found a bunch of different myths telling the story of how Indian Paintbrush got its name, but none of the writing seemed to be by Native Americans. Then I came across a blog post on Broken Walls and Narratives addressing the racism of certain plants and flowers. “Indian Paintbrush” and “Wandering Jew” were both there as well as some other plants I was unfamiliar with.

The author, (whose name I couldn’t find) wrote….

“…it could easily be called Paintbrush plant. Using the word “Indian” invokes something wild, mythical, or even something silly (such as literally using the plant as a paintbrush).  It reduces Native Americans into an idea about something primitive, whimsical, or even non-existent rather than actual, living people, with actual uses for plants.” 

“There is also a colonizing tone to these names, as these are not the names that Native Americans themselves gave the plants but imagined names from colonizers and their descendants.”

This makes sense to me,  it’s just the kind of thing I had been thinking without knowing the origins of the name.  And not something  I want to propagate.

So I decided flowers weren’t necessary.   Instead, my Mother Mary will simply be holding a bouquet of paintbrushes.


7 thoughts on “A Bouquet Of Paintbrushes For Mother Mary

  1. I love how you came to the decision to use paintbrushes in Mother Mary’s hands. In fact, I love the way you are portraying Mary. It brings peace to my heart when I look at her. I was raised Roman Catholic though no longer practice. But Mother Mary has always stayed with me, sometimes in the background but always there. Thank you for this beautiful portrayal of her.

    1. Thanks for your Mother MAry Story Pat. I love hearing how she touches so many people. I’m glad to hear you like the paintbrushes, being you have a relationship with Mary.

  2. It’s too bad the beautiful wild flower which graces my meadow every Summer has had its name reduced to an “anti” label. This flower grows in my meadow. Every year my mom visited my home she would comment on their beauty and how as a child near Canada would pick them for her mother, who passed when she was seven. I asked their name and she said “Indian Paint Brush”. I thought how appropriate a name, as the colors were as vivd as the sunset.
    Just found this on Google:
    “How the Indian Paintbrush was named. The name of this flower is based on the legend of an Indian who wanted to paint a sunset. Frustrated that he could not produce any of the colors that matched the beauty of a sunset, he asked the Great Spirit for help… thus the name”.
    Maria, I simply adore your Mother Mary. Her face is perfection. Jean
    I hope many Native American’s would be happy this legend of the naming still lives on.

    1. I don’t think the name of the flower has to change your feeling and memories Jean. I understand that they are important to you. I read so many different stories about how the “Indian Paintbrush” got its name, but none were written by Native Americans. So many words, names and phrases change over time. I think of it as an evolution. My identity is important to me so I like to give the same respect to others in how they identify themselves.
      I appreciate your good words about my Mother Mary.

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