Gay Wan Nesah: Stonetalker’s Wall

Tom Hendrix began constructing a stone wall decades ago on his property 15 miles north of Florence, Alabama. His intention was to build a monument to his great great grandmother, a member of the Yuchi Indian Tribe, who was sent on the Trail of Tears. Once she arrived in Oklahoma, she escaped, and walked back all by herself to her home waters on the Tennessee River in Alabama. It took her five years, and she is the only person known to have done it. Her amazing story was passed on to Tom through his grandmother, and inspired his colossal undertaking, a winding rock wall that rivals any environmental project done by a single person.

Little known to most Alabamians, Tom Hendrix’s wall is known to people all over the world, especially in the spiritual community. The heartbreaking and uplifting nature of its inspiration, and the knowledge that one man dedicated himself to such an enormous task, offers a powerful, indescribable experience when visiting the wall. People of many faiths and nationalities come to the wall to experience that which can only be felt by going there. Describing the wall or showing images of it conveys little of what is important and amazing about it. One must visit it to understand why people say, “You just have to go there.” Gay Wah Nesah means “a spiritual place.”

Rocks sent from people all over the world have been incorporated into Tom’s wall, including rocks from the top of Mount Everest, the bottom of the ocean, from the Arctic and the Antarctic, from space and from the mines of South Africa. People give stones they have cherished their whole lives, and many of the rocks have incredible and moving stories that accompany them. I have depicted some of those stones on the outside layer of my painting.

The “tiles” of this piece are not real stones, but are made from clay. The next layer represents a segment of the wall where naturally formed rocks with holes form an eerie spectacle. And finally, in the center I brought in patterns from the Yuchi tribe in the background, and used the Red Root plant, or New Jersey Tea Plant, as the centerpiece—the sacred plant of the Yuchis.

Before my Exhibit A project I’d not heard of the wall or Stonetalker (Tom’s Indian name, given to him when the Yuchi tribe adopted him.) My work on this piece started a friendship with a gentle and genuine man that exemplifies the best of the benefits this project has offered me. I spent afternoons at the wall just sitting, spellbound, listening to the wisdom, humility, and humor of someone I’ve come to refer to as my idol. I’ve seen a lot of art in my lifetime as a painter, and Tom’s great work rates high among my favorites, although he blushes to hear himself called an artist. He truly is one.


  1. I remember you talking about this and what a powerful experience it was. This is the kind of treasure here in AL that needs to be shared.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Creek Village Painting

Featured Artist at the ALCC: Chris Gryder

New Without a Net Post