The mythical Queen Calafia was the inspiration behind the name of the state of California. She made her first appearance in a popular Spanish 16th century novel, Las sergas de Esplandián, as a brave Black Warrior Queen who ruled over an island paradise resplendent with gold and natural resources. When the Spaniards sailed north along the coast of Mexico and came upon the Baja peninsula for the first time, they thought it was an island and named California in her honor.
When I learned about the story of the naming of California, I was struck by how right it seemed to me that the inspiration for California’s name was a strong and noble woman.
I think one of the reasons that I was so captivated by Queen Calafia stems from my Mexican Heritage. The cultural backdrop of my life has always included the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Patron Saint of Mexico and a powerful female symbol of motherhood, compassion, strength, and hope.
I see Calafia in much the same way, encompassing powerful and enduring symbols for us as Californians—Abundance; Strength; Life; Beauty; Diversity, Stewardship--and I was inspired to create a piece that would be an expression of my love of California, and a tribute to the mythical Queen who graced our state with her name.
I began by imagining and sculpting the bust of Queen Calafia in the style of a classical Goddess, thinking especially of the Greek goddesses Athena and Diana, while emphasizing Califia’s image as a Black Woman Warrior, in keeping with the European myth.
I used Calafia’s headdress to project her through the centuries and across the ocean to California, the land to which she would bestow her name and her blessings. The Fields and Rolling Hills bordered by repeating designs of Water and Sun represent Abundance; the Live Oak tree represents Strength; the Salmon represent the continuing cycle of Life; the encircling border design of stylized California Poppies represents the natural Beauty of our state. The hint of golden color with which Calafia is washed represents not the gold of the miners, but the true riches the state has in the Diversity of its people and natural resources.
Implicit in the celebration of these gifts, I think, is the admonishment for Stewardship. Queen Calafia calls on us to nurture and protect our extraordinary California.