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Audio Transcript: Ringleader of Disorder
John Tomes Underwood, my great grandfather. On the left, a photo of him as a mischievous young man and on the right, a bit older but still mischievous. He actually carried this photo around in his wallet. There was no doubt in his mind that he was a good-looking fellow.
He had a sparkle in his eye, a swagger in his step and loved a good curse word. This is why it came as no surprise to me that his nickname amongst the teachers at his boarding school was Ringleader of Disorder.
This work, of the same name, shares the story of his spirited resistance at Chemawa Indian boarding school. I was able to locate records of his time there from the National Archives in Seattle. I sat with them as digital files for a long time, not sure what to do with them. As time went on, I was drawn to recreating them so that I could hold them, be with them, think about my great grandfather holding his report card or filling out an application, or getting written up for throwing a book across a classroom. I recreated every record and then made a parfleche (an indian suitcase) out of rawhide to house them.
These records are in part a painful reminder of my family's history, but they are also full of his spirit, full of moments in which he misses his mother, misses his culture, moments where he laughs in the face of those trying to make him small.