All posts by Lo Potter

CHW Publication: Arahura

A new poem on Coffee House Writers makes reference to someplace I’m missing dearly right now: Aotearoa (New Zealand).

The Arahura River is a living, breathing thing with a soul unto itself.

It is also subject to some heartbreaking history of the colonial Gold Rush era. The Ngāi Tahu or Kāi Tahu iwi made a treaty with the British Crown that allowed resource mining, while still retaining iwi ownership and rights to the Arahura. These rights were ignored.

I’m lucky enough to have seen the majesty of the Arahura. It is very recent that amends began to be made. Please take a moment to visit Arahura Dreaming to learn more about the Arahura Pa and what you can do to support the iwi that make the country of Aotearoa (New Zealand) so great. If you visit, please do so with the utmost respect and treat Arahura with the same innate rights as any other human being would have.

Spain And The Art of Bringing In Tourism Dollars By Ruining Irreplaceable Art

From the country that brought you Monkey Christ now comes what I will call with absolutely no affection, “Gumby in a dress with sheep.”

This is only the most recent example of a decades long issues that has plagued Spain. So much so that a tourism industry has popped up around badly restored art. They’re doing this on purpose. As of June some were even calling for regulations to be put in place to try and stop the destruction of priceless works of art.

The restored face on a building in Valencia, Spain – The before and after courtesy of The Guardian

People are starting to take notice at the progressively more extreme botched art restorations. Art News’s Claire Selvin couldn’t help remarking on how significant the changes to the original face by the “restoration” team had been and brought up the same question that was brought up last June.

Restoration projects that leave artworks looking drastically changed have become something of a pattern in Spain in recent years.  When the Virgin Mary painting was altered twice by a furniture restorer in Valencia in June, experts revived calls for increased regulation of efforts related to the restoration of artworks.

https://www.artnews.com/art-news/news/restoration-spanish-sculpture-botched-1234576275/

But just how much money did the “Monkey Christ” bring in? Is it really enough to incentivize purposeful botched art restorations?

Well, quite a lot. So much so that I’m not the only one suggesting that this has become a new art movement in Spain to draw in tourism dollars. And it is threatening the survival of priceless works of historic art for the sake of social media attention. In 2012 alone the “Monkey Christ” brought in 40,000 guests and more than €50,000 for charity. The restoration artist also wanted cuts of royalties that she then went on to be partially donated to Muscular Dystrophy. While that is nice, the story gets more complicated.

A familiar face, now known to the world as Monkey Christ, greets visitors to the Santuario de Misericordia, its blurred and startled features staring down from bottles, thimbles, bookmarks, teddy bears, pens, mugs, T-shirts, mousepads, badges, fridge magnets and keyrings.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/28/how-monkey-christ-brought-new-life-to-a-quiet-spanish-town

By 2016 the town was seeing hundreds of thousands of visitors per year and receiving single donations topping the total brought in that first year. While it can be argued that this injection of money was bringing some much needed funds to the area, the question that arises is: Is Sacrificing Irreplaceable Historic Art Worth It?

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The Before, After Restoration, and After Fixing The Botched Restoration From: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/spanish-statue-st-george-undergoes-unrestoration-remove-botched-paint-job-180972481/

In 2018, Spain had a different statue botching of St. George – a saint that I only barely recall because I’m fairly certain he is one of those that may have “slain a dragon.” And that is in fact what the statue that was being restored was of – St. George Slaying A Dragon.

Now, as much as I would love to believe St. George proudly presented the head of some noble beast to his lady love and saved a village, I call bullshit. That said, there have been efforts to repair the situation. These costly “repairs” stripped off the materials used on the statue, resulting in loss of the original paint and overall worsening of the condition. The Smithsonian article explained ACRE‘s description of the egregious errors made in the restoration process:

According to a statement by ACRE, Spain’s national organization of professional art restorers, the artist applied several layers of plaster, repainted the figure, and sanded its surface, effectively erasing the entirety of its “historical footprint.” The original artist had used a unique polychrome technique. According to London’s National Gallery, Spanish sculptors of the 16th and 17th centuries carved their statues and covered them in white gesso but were prohibited from actually painting the figurines, which were later gilded and refined by specially trained artisans.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/spanish-statue-st-george-undergoes-unrestoration-remove-botched-paint-job-180972481/

One of the fascinating things to note is that the Smithsonian found out from ACRE that these pieces of art are being restored without authorization from the region’s heritage foundations and that they are technically protected artifacts. The costs to fix these botched restorations fall onto the levels of Spanish government, and thus taxpayers, if the funds exist. Sometimes there aren’t the funds for the repair. Fixing the restoration of the statue of St. George cost approximately 34,000 USD of government funds intended for Art and Culture.

While we keep laughing at these botched art restorations and making them “go viral” online, the true victims are the future generations that will never see the original works that are being destroyed for the sake of generating money from publicity to line someone’s pockets.

With Spain reopening for tourism and given how dependent their economy is on this influx of cash this is a real threat for cultural and historical preservation. So, before you decide you want to travel to see one of these pieces please think. Each time you pay to see any botched art or buy memorabilia with “bad restorations” from Spain, you’re supporting an illegal industry meant to take your money all while destroying priceless art and artifacts. The trouble with those is that once something like that is gone it really is gone forever and future generations will never be able to experience it or learn any more of the secrets it may have had to tell.


Thanks for taking the time to read this. The comments section is for you – I do moderate first time commenters to prevent trolls and spam, but once your first comment has been approved you should have no difficulty posting comments.

Camels And North America

Photo by Kyaw Tun on Unsplash

A (Brief) History Of Camels In North America

Much to everyone’s surprise, Camels were once native to the North American continent. Eleven thousand years ago these Camelops roamed the western United States and, though modern relatives live in Africa and Asia, relatives of the species as a whole may have spread across to Asia from Alaska via the Bering Strait. As with many land bridge hypotheses, this one has its holes, such as how our updated understanding of evolution and human migration patterns have impacted other species such as Equuis scotti.

By the time Europeans came west the North American camel had long since disappeared. The Texas Camel Corps is excited to educate everyone about the role of camels in United States history. It wasn’t until 1701 that its first relatives returned to the continent as an import to the Virginia Colony by a slave trader, most likely for use as work animals. In contrast, a wealthy Massachusetts ship captain named Crowninshield imported a pair of show camels for his personal menagerie. Later, in 1748 Arthur Dobbs, landowner, and governor of North Carolina, imported a pair of camels to work his land. No records exist to suggest he ever sold individuals that may have resulted from a breeding pair.

Camels remained an exotic novelty until 1856 when President Franklin Pierce was in office and the country experienced the unique election of President James Buchanan. President Franklin Pierce was an expansionist excited to encourage and sign policies that pushed for the exploration and utilization of the Southwest. What is  a better way to explore an area assumed to be an arid wasteland than with animals everyone assumes are made for arid wasteland? And so the Texas Camel Corps and its association with the United States Calvary began. Responsible for at least 60 Arabian and 15 Bactrian camels, the Ottoman Pasha of Cairo sent his generous gifts to the United States military in the May of 1856 and February of 1857. Once James Buchanan took office only 40 additional camels came to Texas on a suspected slave ship in October of 1858 and were the only cargo allowed to be unloaded for a Mrs. M.J. Watson, assumed to be the wife of the manifest’s Thomas Watson. These camels were accepted at that time by the governor of Texas and kept on a ranch near Houston, Texas. Texas’s camels were mostly used for the transportation of military supplies to and from San Antonio, Texas up until the Civil War.

Photo by Zachary Spears on Unsplash

As an exception, in 1859 an expedition following the route that would become Route 66 (Modern Interstate 40) used the camels to traverse the western deserts of America. Eventually, during the Civil War these camels would be put to work hauling cotton and salt to attempt to keep up with British trade demands at critical Confederate ports not blockaded by the Union Navy. One individual used sixty-six camels to maintain a freight trade route from Texas to Mexico City.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a few import events from Africa, Russia, and Australia of hundreds of individuals from Arizona to British Columbia (though Canada sent them back!) mean that as of today we have a little over two thousand Arabian camels and around five hundred Bactrian camels distributed between zoos, viruses, breeders, and privately-held collections. Unfortunately, there is no official camel registry for individuals managed by the USDA, and their presence in the United States is poorly regulated. While there have been multiple import events of specific species of camels that could be differentiated with genetic evidence should studies be done on current populations, my question remains: are there currently feral camels in North America? If so, where are they and where did they come from?

Photo by Julius Yls on Unsplash

Feral Camels

While the import of camels for various purposes by the United States and the Confederacy provided a utilitarian purpose for the human support of domesticated populations, sightings of feral camel populations have dated back to at least the 1860s when they were used for the construction of the railroad across the American Southwest, with that population’s release location being Maricopa Wells, Arizona. These feral camels received the nickname “red ghost” or “el diablo” for their aggression as documented by their tendency to stop children and animals to death even though camels are better known for being docile and gentle. This individual was later killed when caught grazing on a farmer’s tomatoes according to one newspaper account according to Smithsonian magazine. But other stories claim witnesses saw “red ghost” killed by a grizzly bear. And yet more stories about feral camel sightings and their eventual demise in the wild or at the hands of humans.

One day a curious and frightening animal with a blobbish head, long and curving neck, and shambling legs, moseyed around the garrison…. the animal was one of the old army camels.”

Douglas MacArthur, 1885 (age 5)

One documented sighting of a feral camel comes from the childhood stories of the famous General MacArthur who was only five at the time in 1885. The records at the National Zoo suggest that feral camels were known to roam Texas until at least the 1890s. You can even visit the gravesite of a late camel driver that died while out in the desert hunting for the loose animals in Arizona. Several more sightings persisted through the early 20th century, particularly in the desert of Southern California and around the Salton Sea. Up until the 1970s, there were individuals insistent that camels still roamed the deserts of the American Southwest.

Photo by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash

It’s not unreasonable to assume that feral camel populations still exist in the deserts of the North American continent, especially when considering the history of how the feral populations of camels in Australia became established. These are very durable animals that can withstand temperature extremes and internal body temperature fluctuations that could easily kill other mammals. There are even those that actively argue for the camel to make a comeback as an agricultural animal that needs to be re-established in the United States. And they aren’t alone – there are conservationists that agree. There are some that argue if feral populations do not currently exist they should perhaps be re-established as part of the efforts to revive the environment of the American Southwest that has been devastated by poor agricultural practices and specifically soil salinization. Arabian camels have a high salt tolerance in their diets and can help distribute salt that has been concentrated across a landscape. The biggest hurdle? Making the camels go feral in the first place.

But would the reintroduction of a related species be considered an invasive species? Would camels be considered an invasive species? Researchers have asked this too. Genetic evidence suggests that there may not be too big of a difference between the camels of today we could import and release versus the camels of tens of thousands of years ago. Vegetarian and omnivorous megafauna play a niche role in any ecosystem, especially one in which there used to, but no longer exist animals to take up that role. Some have suggested that camels could help fill that role in the United States.

Before we go out looking to bring more camels into the United States, we must first conduct a full survey of the population and determine how many individuals are here, whether or not they are feral versus domesticated, what diseases they are currently harboring, the state of their population genetics, and whether or not there exists a preexisting breeding population of feral camels that spans across the desert of Northern Mexico and the American Southwest. These individuals would likely be hybrids of the Arabian and Bactrian camels with primarily Arabian genetic lineage, with the potential for incorporating other individuals from other later import events, such as pie-bald breeding populations from Australia and Morocco. This could be done via aerial surveys, much like how there’s already aerial population monitoring of caribou and other megafauna in remote locations.

A current barrier to this is that the USDA currently regulated camels as exotic animals. The USDA’s regulations around exotic animals, and therefore all breeding, sales, and research are done under the same laws that govern all other exotic animals such as those kept in zoos. On the USDA’s website, in their FAQ on the subject, this is their response to the needs for owning an exotic “pet” for breeding, viewing, or research. These regulations prevent the USDA from regulating camels as livestock and this actually interferes with their ability to establish animal welfare standards. PETA helped shut down a camel ride operation this past August due to insufficient access to veterinary care for the animals used at the “park.” While I am someone that would normally point you toward numerous issues with PETA’s hypocrisy, in this case they are right. There is insufficient access to veterinary care for camels in the United States due to a lack of demand and lack of access to training and no regulation around what their health requirements are. The majority of workshops for veterinarians to attend to learn about treating camels are entirely funded by the private owners. If we were to implement a release program it would have to be done after major changes in regulation and improvements in wildlife veterinary medicine training included camels in the curriculum to ensure proper monitoring for their populations and health.

What are your thoughts? Should we reintroduce the camel to deal with soil salinization? Should we seek out potential feral camel populations? How much more research do we need?


Thank you for taking the time to read this article on feral camels in North America! What’s your opinion? There are no wrong answers here.

Thoughts On Mary Wollstonecraft’s Statue

circa 1797  english feminist writer mary wollstonecraft godwin 1759   1797, author of 'a vindication of the rights of woman' and mother of mary wollstonecraft shelley  a drawing by a s merritt after the painting by opie  photo by hulton archivegetty images

Born in 1759, Mary Wollstonecraft was an early feminist and I learned of her first as the mother of Mary Shelley, the mother of Science Fiction. While she was born to what many would call an abusive family by modern standards, what she experienced as childhood was common for women at the time. By a combination of being lucky, her own craftiness, and wielding her unhappiness through rationality, she gained an audience upon publishing her works.

Make women rational creatures, and free citizens, and they will quickly become good wives; – that is, if men do not neglect the duties of husbands and fathers.

Mary Wollstonecraft

That was her reality. She had the benefit, by all accounts, of being pretty enough and educated enough. She worked as a translator when she realized that being a housewife would drive her, and those around her, insane. And this lended her the opportunity to write her book, “A Vindication Of The Rights Of Women.”

I do not wish women to have power over men but over themselves.

Mary Wollstonecraft (arguing something that women are still arguing hundreds of years later)

Her arguments can be summarized here:

  • Men and women should be provided equal education in a coeducational environment as they are expected to marry each other and should thus be educated equally as well.
  • Men/those with power in society should be the primary leaders of a feminist liberation movement.
  • Women must choose rationality over sensibility (sensibility being defined as whims and emotions). This has been used to argue that her opinion was that sex and romance were distractions for women. This has also been subject to numerous criticisms.
  • Further addressed in “A Vindication Of The Rights Of Men” she argues in favor of constitutional monarchy and republicanism based on its distribution of power and the negative impacts that charity has. This plays into views on the church.
  • Utilitarianism makes constant appearances in her views. This may explain part of the union between herself and her husband/fellow philosopher William Godwin.

As with all historic persons, we must consider her works in the context of her time period and life experiences. While she was considered radical for her time period, she was radical for arguing that women were capable of being creatures driven by rationality and sharing responsibilities with men as equals with independent interests in self direction. Sadly, she died 10 days after giving birth to her second child, Mary Godwin (Later, Shelley), in 1797. When I heard a memorial statue to her was going to be done by an artist I really like and everyone I know hates, things got exciting.

Don’t worry, I’m okay with people hating the art I like.

Maggi Hambling had no small feat ahead of her as she designed a statue to honor Mary Wollstonecraft. Her past works include A Conversation with Oscar Wilde , Scallop (for Benjamin Britten), and so many more. She has constructed art dedicated to some of the most eccentric and extreme of individuals made famous for how their existence and identities coincidentally fell into history. I have a few favorite pieces by her including War Coffin and her paintings of the North Sea. She’s a talented artist with a very unique style.

In my opinion as a fan of her work, Hambling designs her memorial pieces with the full context of an individual’s life in mind. She works hard to include the ugliness with the beauty and as I mentioned before, Mary Wollstonecraft was gifted with a rather lovely physical form. This meant that to communicate her concept of the woman emerging into a future society as a rational being from one ruled by the senses might be a difficult design challenge when there are other creatures with penises in the room. Additionally, Hambling’s statues are interactive. Each of her sculptures is designed with considerations to their orientation in their surroundings and how each person is going to sit, touch, lay on, and feel each sculpture to interact with the memory of the person she is representing.

At first, I didn’t know what to make of her statue. It reminded me of the 35th Anniversary Edition cover of Atlas Shrugged. [I’ve been encouraged to add that this deeply bothered me because I did not at any point think I would associate feminism and anything relating to Ayn Rand at the same time. But here we are.] Admittedly, this was the first picture I saw:

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Then I saw more of the sculpture…

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But here’s the full statue….

Mary Wollstonecraft

The “naked lady” portion is maybe 1/8 of the total height and is in no way provocative. Why was I reminded of the cover of Atlas Shrugged? Probably the borderline brutalist take on the architecture of the human form that strips it of sexuality and focuses instead on its utilitarianism; this feels post-modernist. Yet we’re talking about an 18th century rationalist woman asking for the right to individual agency and purpose derived from the self in a way that is equal to men of equivalent status. Hmm… This actually looks spot on for the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft and I can’t argue with it.

As for the amorphous blob she is standing upon? Now, that’s evocative. Stare at it long enough and you start to see human shapes emerging in sensual, borderline lewd positions. It is glorious and, depending on how creative you are, rude. The rational woman is standing atop an amorphous Akira style faceless nightmare of irrational sensuality, like a freaking epiphany waiting to be seen.

As with all of Hambling’s memorials the sculpture was constructed “for” the person based on their life and life’s works. I’m not saying I love it, but I have no qualms with the sculpture. It gets the job done and creates a thoughtful conversation piece that brings Mary Wollstonecraft’s work into the twenty-first century.


Do you love it? Do you hate it? Do you find it downright offensive? All of these are okay! Feel free to leave a comment below about what you think – that space is for you and I will work to get your comment approved as quickly as possible if you have not previously commented on the website.