A New Sculpture for Ventura City Hall

A replica of the Tomol, might grace the front of our City Hall.

Text and photo ©Robert Chianese RLChianese@gmail.com

Native Chumash representatives, the City of San Buenaventura, and the Ventura Mission Church have reached agreement to move the large statue of Father Junipero Serra that fronts the Ventura City Hall to the nearby Mission grounds. This may end the fight over where to site the statue of this iconic figure, a saint to some, to others an enslaver and cruel master to Native Californians up and down the state.

People’s heightened awareness of America’s real history enables its shameful legacy of enslavement, dominance of indigenous peoples, and oppression of minorities to take center stage. That grows out of the Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality this spring, and makes Serra’s central public place in Ventura’s community untenable for many. He should exit his pedestal, a santo obscando. The chain link cage around him protects him from being defaced or torn down before he can be moved, with bouquets and votive offerings signaling support of others.

Who or what to put in his place?

I propose that we Venturans commemorate the original founders of Buenaventura– the Chumash who established a village here called Shishalop. (Earlier residents, the Oak Grove Peoples, are obscured in the veils of pre-history.)

Specifically, a bronze replica of their fantastic ocean-going canoe, the Tomol, might grace the front of our City Hall. As a city monument, the Tomol would honor the Chumash’s look to the ocean and mastery of seagoing life and wise selection of a magnificent site to settle in, as we have done today. Placed on top the Padre pedestal, it would look out to the sea with ancient longing, but also with the heroic energy and ingenuity that these native peoples put to the complex engineering task of building these ocean-going watercraft that enabled strong, kneeling paddlers to cross to the Channel Islands.

A tomol at the Ventura Albinger Archaeological Museum, made by modern Chumash, clearly shows the deep-V curvilinear shape for speed and breaking through waves and planing on top of the water with a high bow and stern. The planking, binding and decorative details show the attention to their engineering artistry. A replica could proudly front our Ventura City Hall.

We already have a sculptural replica of the tomol. It graces the side of the downtown parking structure, vertically aligned with the building, its paddles forming an abstract pattern when the shadows are right. However, it’s more artistry than history and somewhat hidden from view.

A separate tomol sculpture in front of City Hall would bring to civic consciousness Native history and artistry, the painful ravages of racism, and the city’s modern commitment to the accurate portrayal of the past through an object worthy of public excitement and even veneration.

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