Alexandria, VA – In response to Covid-19, the exhibition of my mosaics in Woodstock, VA, in May was postponed along with most of life as we knew it. When it was rescheduled for October, I suggested the name Discover Woodstock. My thought was to tie into the Columbus Day holiday and suggest people plan an excursion to Woodstock to discover the town, Gallery 7 East, and my new mosaics.
The name Discover Woodstock got me thinking hard about the Columbus Day, perhaps soon-to-be Indigenous Peoples, holiday.
Back around 1990, when Tisara Photography opened shop near the corner of King and Harvard Streets, I was president of a new business association called KSMET, King Street Metro Enterprise Team. It was a time of recession in much of the Western world. According to Wikipedia, “The immediate cause of the recession was a loss of consumer and business confidence as a result of the 1990 oil price shock, coupled with an already weak economy.” The business reality of the recession mattered more than the cause and I came up with the idea of a Discovery Day Festival on Upper King Street for the Columbus Day holiday.
My thought was a Stone Soup approach. Stone Soup is a European folk story in which hungry strangers convince the people of a poor town to each share a small amount of their food in order to make a meal that everyone enjoyed.
And our Stone Soup approach worked for the two years we ran it.
A local graphic artist designed a logo that was used on tee shirts and brochures. Shopkeepers displayed some of their wares on the street and offered discounts. Victory Van Lines gave us use of a portable stage where City officials gathered to welcome Christopher Columbus (portrayed by Steven Halperson wearing a costume lent by Opera Americana). Columbus arrived on foot from the King Street Metro Station.
A replica of the three-masted ship, the Federalist, was set up in the then-vacant space of what is now King Street Gardens Park. The then-Bank of Alexandria set up a kid’s activity area in their parking lot. Students from the VA Tech College of Architecture transformed an empty space at what is now Commerce St. Plaza into a magical area for story-telling and face painting. All free.
A waiter’s race was organized by Joe Theismann’s restaurant where contestants carried trays of water-filled glasses. The winner was whoever finished with the most water still in the glass. Commonwealth Court Restaurant at 1101 King Street (closed now) sponsored a pie contest judged by Christopher Columbus.
And I, wanting to include as many people and activities as possible, invited Thomasina Jordan (I knew her as Tommie Jordan) to offer an activity related to American Indians. My intentions were good. Now I am stunned by my ignorance.
I had met Tommie Jordan at an American Indian festival I photographed at Market Square. Somehow, despite my poor memory, I remembered her name, even though it’s been 30 years. I didn’t know until I Googled her name recently what an extraordinary woman she was.
I learned from House Joint Resolution No. 79, offered January 18, 2000, that Thomasina Elizabeth Jordan (Red Hawk Woman), was an internationally recognized American Indian activist who died after a long battle with cancer on May 23, 1999. She founded the American Indian Cultural Exchange, served on the boards of directors of Save the Children and the National Rehabilitation Hospital, was past president of Chapter I of the Capital Speakers Club and a recipient of the Medal of Honor of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Thomasina Jordan was the first American Indian to serve in the Electoral College in 1988. She was appointed chairperson of the Virginia Council on Indians by Governor George Allen and was reappointed by Governor James Gilmore, III. All this and so much more.
Tommie Jordan politely and firmly declined. She patiently explained that American Indians did not celebrate Columbus Day, that Christopher Columbus did not “discover” America, that there were already people living here.
A Fourth of July message from the Reverend Dr. Kate Walker, minister of Mount Vernon Unitarian Church, invited members and friends to “reflect on the 400th anniversary of the landing in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Imagine how the sounds of contemporary fireworks and nationalism fell upon the ears of the indigenous people who were already occupying this land. I invite you to reflect on the narrative that the United States is a country of immigrants, a mosaic of immigrants who have built this country. Imagine how this story sounds to the ears of the black slaves brought to this country to support its economy….”
As I said earlier, my intention in inviting Tommie Jordan to participate in the Discovery Festival was innocent. Now I see how ignorant I was. I like to think that if I could go back to that first Discovery Festival, Tommie Jordan would be invited as the featured speaker, and it would be an occasion for serious and meaningful cultural exchange.
Mosaic artist/photographer Nina Tisara is founder of Living Legends of Alexandria.