By C.J. Barbre

THREE RIVERS-Dr. Saundra Sturdevant has managed to carve out a career documenting the beauty, dignity, even heroism of women who work the fields around the world to help feed their families.

She is presently working on the Migrant Photography Project, documenting the lives of women who come from Mexico to work in the fields of the Central Valley, with photographs and a book.

She also has a B&B in Three Rivers where she grows organic vegetables in containers. It is called the Organic Gardens Bed and Breakfast/Hostel. Sturdevant said it's a B&B if guests want her to prepare an organic breakfast, and a hostel if they want to do their own cooking. The B&B gives her a financial base for an independent lifestyle.

In February Sturdevant returned from photographing in the Michoacan province, Mexico. And it's not surprising that she ordered up a mural illustrating the indigenous Yokut culture.

"The original inhabitants of what is now the Three Rivers area were the Yokuts. Preparing food was women's work. The women gathered acorns from the oak trees, ground them, rinsed and leached them in the baskets in the river. Drying on the granite rocks and storage followed. Acorns accounted for perhaps 60% of the food source," Sturdevant said.

She said it's something she has wanted to see since the county ordered her to install a 5,000 gallon water tank for fire prevention for her B&B/residence/studio, when she moved here from Berkeley 10 years ago. She hired local muralist Wendy McKellar, "a very gifted local artist with part of her family going back to settler days."

McKellar said she used baskets handed down from her great-grandmother who got them from a Yokut Indian friend known as Blind Molly. The blind Yokut woman wove beautiful baskets. McKellar was assisted by Denise Hartley of Emerald Design which was the outfit that did the murals at Children's Hospital of Central California.

Sturdevant feels that indigenous people's life is under represented in Tulare County murals although there are two in Exeter and two in Tulare. In Tulare "Yokuts of Central California," two murals by artist Colleen Mitchell-Venya, are on the Civic Affairs building at 125 South 'M' St. One shows a village scene including a woman with a grinding stone, and the other shows a male fishing in a dugout canoe.

On 'E' St. at Pine in Exeter is "Yokuts Harvest," by artist Ben Barker portraying the agrarian lifestyle of the local Yokut Indians who are collecting sourberries during the spring. A number of beautiful baskets are included in the painting. The other is titled "Leta & Hawtoy,"

by artist Ivonne Nagle, depicting two Indian children in native costumes, who attended early Exeter schools.

However none of these murals show indigenous peoples grinding acorns on big rocks by our rivers. In many places along the Kaweah and Tule rivers, grinding holes eight to 10 inches deep can be found in the granite slabs, indicating generations of women grinding acorns at these sites.

"As a woman living on the land, I spend a lot of time preparing the land to raise my food organically. I harvest, prepare food, save and share seeds," Sturdevant said.

"This mural honors those women who came before me, who lived here and learned how to survive and provide for themselves and their families in what can be a very harsh and unpredictable climate."

Organic Gardens B&B is located at 44095 Dinely Dr. in Three Rivers.

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