Paul Cahan


Most people know very little about the complex artwork called “petroglyphs” made by Native Americans hundreds, thousands of years ago. Many people are familiar with the popular image of the ‘flute player’ but there is much more. Petroglyphs are the images that were ‘pecked’ into the sides of cliffs or onto large horizontal or vertical rocks by Native Americas. The “canvas” used was the “desert varnish” the dark accumulation of algae detritis. Underneath this dark coating is the bright earth toned red rock of the Southwest. The images are breathtaking, spiritual, mysterious, universal. Similar images are to be found world-wide suggesting a connection between groups of people, or something that Carl Jung theorized that were “archetypes” of the human mind.

A few years after my injury, about 2000, I went with a group of friends to Moab, Utah. It was not an art trip. By accident, while sightseeing, we discovered the shaman figures on the sides of the cliffs near where we were staying. I was thrilled. I studied the subject, read books, and the following year met Professor James D. Keyser, author of many books on the subject. Dr. Keyser is an anthropologist and renowned expert on the subject and member of the American Rock Art Research Association.

It may sound a bit “off the wall” but I honestly felt a connection with these shamanic pieces. I was in chronic pain in my legs and I identified with the Native American’s plight of being nearly destroyed by early settlers in this country as my body was nearly destroyed by lax FDA regulations and inadequate drug company warnings on an antibiotic Floxin, now called Levaquin. The drug has a delayed reaction mechanism that has caused permanent achilles tendon damage to me and tens of thousands of others. I imagined their living conditions and experiences with other people…other tribes, and connected with how they must have had a need to express the stress and join in a ritual to celebrate their survival and help cope with their difficult life. I do not claim any authentic interpretation; this is all my own personal thought process in seeing their art and my own need to express artistically my own issues that I projected into their work.

For a few years, I studied the Native art of the southwest, mostly from the books Dr. James Keyser and Dr. Lawrence Loendorf wrote, and from the wonderful folks at ARARA, the American Rock Art Research Association that organize research symposiums and visits to rock art sites.

Nearly all the outdoor Native images are vulnerable to disappearing now more than ever. Oil and gas drilling, vandalism, and lifting restrictions on the use of Off Road Vehicles in what used to be isolated regions. These unique creations are slowly being destroyed or just left to deteriorate. For a few years I concentrated my art on creating permanent steel sculptures from the Native two dimensional petroglyph images to someday help educate the public on the importance of preserving the first American art created in our country.

January 2015

Please click on images thumbnails for larger view:


Shaman Moab Cliff
Shaman Moab Cliff Detail
Shaman Moab Cliff
Bird Front
Bird Back
Wyoming Warrior
Spedis Owl
Rayed Arc Figure
Rayed Arc Steel
Rayed Arc Red Rock
Rayed Arc Spins
Rayed Arc Side
Rayed Arc Spiral
Book Cover



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