The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1990, Volume 36, Number 1
Thomas L. Scharf, Editor

Gregg R. Hennessey, Book Review Editor

The Forgotten Artist: Indians of Anza-Borrego and Their Rock Art.

By Manfred Knaak. Borrego Springs, California: Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association, 1988. Bibliography. Illustrations. Index. Maps. 117+XIV Pages. $25.00 (soft cover).

Reviewed by Ken Hedges, Chief Curator of the San Diego Museum of Man, Past-President of the American Rock Art Research Association, Editor of the annual Rock Art Papers of the museum, author of numerous papers on American Indian rock art.

I will make my recommendation for those considering this fine book right at the start: If you have any interest in American Indian rock art, the Indian cultures of southern California, or the hidden treasures of Anza-Borrego, buy this book.

The Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, nestled on the desert slopes of the Peninsular Range along almost the entire length of San Diego County, marks the place of coming together for three of the Native American cultures which inhabited this region when the Spanish arrived. To the north, the territory of the Cahuilla extended down from the Santa Rosa Mountains into Borrego Valley. In the south, Kumeyaay territory extended from Baja California to the drainage of San Felipe Creek. From the west, the northern dialect division of the Kumeyaay, more generally known as the Northern Diegueño, made seasonal forays into the desert country to gather important resources like agave, a major food. The distribution of these cultures is responsible, in broad outline, for the presence in the park of distinctive styles of rock art. From the north, small painted sites and the more frequent occurrence of petroglyphs give way to a small area marked by geometric red paintings around Blair Valley, with the southern region characterized by sites in the polychrome style of the Kumeyaay.

The rock art is the reason for this book, but the book offers much more. The native people of Anza-Borrego had a long cultural history and shared a distinctive environment. Their art as well as their existence reflected these factors, not so much in matters of style as in what we can glean from the little that we know of the reasons for the art. This book beautifully expresses the certainty that rock art is the product of ritual activity. Native American ritual is tied closely to the universal figure of the shaman, and here in Anza-Borrego as elsewhere we now know that the activities of the shaman are closely tied to seasonal cycles and the ever-present need to celebrate renewal. Often the rock art itself tells us this, and this aspect of southern California rock art is admirably presented here.

Manfred Knaak emigrated to the United States from Germany in 1963. Like many Europeans, he carried dreams of American Indians and the West, and here he followed these dreams to degrees in anthropology at San Diego State University. As Park Ranger for Anza-Borrego, he has spent much of his career studying the native cultures and documenting the rock art. Although his degrees are in anthropology, he has avoided (some might say escaped) becoming a professional anthropologist. The book is not a scientific, dry tome on the anthropology and archaeology of the park, filled with jargon and data tables to justify academic existence. Rather, it is a sensitive, even poetic evocation of Native American culture and ritual as it relates to the rock art. Perhaps because he is not a professional anthropologist who must demonstrate scientific precision to his peers, Manfred has the courage to present part of its story as original, fictional narratives. Seldom has this device been used as beautifully and as effectively as in the chapter “Shaman: The Man Who Sees Beyond the Stars.” If you are considering the purchase of this book, read the Prologue, in which the shaman and his art are introduced. If that doesn’t grab you, nothing will.

Reviews do not often address the design of a book, but the design of this book, by Michael Donaldson and Sandra Mahan, is an integral part of its success in telling the story it wishes to tell. The author’s photographs are supplemented by a sensitive selection of historic images from the San Diego Museum of Man, and by photos from photographers well known to Anza-Borrego buffs: Bill Evarts, Paul Johnson, Mark Jorgensen, and Larry Ulrich. Images, except for the historic photos, are in color; the design is outstanding; the text is among the best available for introducing the reader to the fascinating world of American Indian rock art. Needless to say, The Forgotten Artist is highly recommended.