Waterfall at Blackhand Gorge: #1

I took Norah, and Winnie out to Blackhand Gorge last weekend because I couldn’t work in the bathroom (the tile was setting.) I told them about the history of the Gorge, as I got it from Wikipedia.

Before Europeans came to Ohio, there was a system of cliff ridges near the Licking River in Ohio that is now called “Flint Ridge.” Back then, this area was used primarily as a flint quarry to make arrow heads, and the flint in this area is very high quality flint. The area was so important, and widely used that it was agreed upon that no blood should be spilled there. A petroglyph of a hand had been carved into a cliff face at the Licking River, possibly pointing travelers to Flint Ridge, and letting them know that they had entered the area where bloodshed was prohibited.

An old legend told of Ahyoma, the daughter of Chief Powcongah, who was of age to be married. Ahyoma and Waconsta were in love, but the Chief decreed that the warrior who brought back the most scalps would be allowed to marry her. A battle ensued, and another warrior Lahkopis returned with more scalps than Waconsta. The chief decreed that Lahkopis would marry Ahyoma, so she fled to Flint Ridge with Waconsta. They both thought they would be safe there because of the restriction against shedding blood at Flint Ridge. However, Lahkopis followed them, and chased them to a cliff near the Licking River where he attacked Waconsta. Waconsta raised his tomahawk to defend himself and cut off Lahkopis’ hand. Then Waconsta and Ahyoma both dove into the Licking River and drowned. Meanwhile, the hand of Lahkopis landed on the cliff face and grew into an enormous carved hand to remind all future visitors that blood should not be shed at Flint Ridge.

The story sounds like a bunch of Euro Trash to me, to be honest. I was under the impression that scalping was introduced to Native Americans by Europeans, in which case the legend would be anachronistic at best. However, I read a smidge on it today, and apparently there is evidence of scaling in North America as early as 2,500 BCE. See here for more on that.

Whether the story is newly invented, or an old myth doesn’t matter. What the story seems to prove is that this area was sacred in a way. While it may not have been a religious site like we might consider it today the idea that bloodshed was expressly forbidden here is supported by the existence of the story of Ahyoma.

Unfortunately, when building the Erie Canal, the petroglyph was destroyed, and I don’t think it’s certain even where the hand once was. In spite of the uncertainty, there is a spot on Google Maps labeled Black Hand rock, so the girls and I walked down a trail in search of it. On the trail, we heard a waterfall, and walked over to check it out. A smaller trail led to the waterfall, and we had an incredible moment of discovery for us. The experience was what I think the word sublime is intended for.

With today being my first day back to painting, I decided to paint the waterfall. I wasn’t expecting much from my first painting in two months, but I’m reasonably happy with the results.

The photo

This is the photo I decided to paint. I I didn’t want to try to recreate it exactly, instead, I wanted to paint what it felt like to be there. In order to achieve that, I wanted to emphasize the power of the water, and the strength of the diagonal felled tree trunks.

First wash

To begin, I sketched the major shapes, trying to focus on the presence of the waterfall. I wanted to establish the feeling of a recess, since the waterfall dug a small semicircular cove into the rock. I then used masking fluid to protect the whites in the waterfall. The first wash was laid down more intentionally than in the past. I wasn’t trying to get the painting finished in the first wash, but I definitely wanted to actually describe the rocks and water in the image.

Negative painting the rocks on the right

I used some darker greys in the right of the waterfall, and stopped before the right hand edge of the paper in order to get some near rocks to stand out, and enhance that private feeling I had down there. I also used that dark color to define the cracks in the rocks to the left of the waterfall. I used some Quin green gold to describe the moss on the rocks and logs.

Finished painting

I let everything dry, and then came back with some darker darks, in order to better define the depth in the image.

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