Timothy White Eagle is a performance artist and ritualist who's been guiding Seattleites into illuminating altered states for nearly three decades.
As creator and impresario of Coffee Messiah, the espresso shop/performance space/free-range-freak sanctuary that lit up East Capitol Hill for the later half of the 1990s, he created a space, as he says, "for people to be courageous." The one-of-a-kind venue launched in 1995 with an installation of a coin-operated discotheque in hell, and peaked with The Cabaret of Despair, a recurring performance showcase that was the brainchild of Marcus Wilson/Ursula Android and became the immediate precursor to his and Jackie Hell's legendary club night, Pho Bang.
As an artist, Timothy creates installations that function as ritual spaces, captured in a 10-year collaboration with photographer Adrain Chesser (their book, The Return, came out in 2014) and continuing right now in his home studio, inside "The Red Room," a hybrid sweat lodge and kiva whose walls throb with red light.
As a ritualist, Timothy's drawn inspiration from two key sources: the queer paganism of Radical Faeries and his own Native heritage. "I grew up knowing I was Native but having no specific tribal identity," Timothy tells me as we lounge on his deck with a bong. (In the bowl: Middlefork, a strong sativa-dominant strain produced by Royal Tree Gardens and purchased from Have a Heart in Greenwood.)
Born to a White Mountain Apache mother and adopted by a white working-class family in Elma, Washington, Timothy made it through an upbringing in the "benevolently racist" Mormon Church (which cited a curse as the cause of Native American skin tones and claimed that faith in the LDS Church could correct pigment-based shame). After graduating from the University of Utah with a BFA in theater, Timothy made his way to Seattle, where he had his mind blown by an Ann Hamilton show at the Henry Art Gallery. He quickly got to work making installations of his own.
"I'm talking more freely now," says Timothy when I ask for evidence of his highness. "I'm new to smoking weed in the morning." Did I mention that it's 10 a.m. on a Sunday? We celebrate this fact by getting our stoned selves inside for coffee and bagels, served up in the funky dining room of Timothy's Central District home/studio. "I love beat-up modern furniture," Timothy says of the decor. "It's meant to be futuristic and flawless, but it's best when it's worn and ripped."
Placed at various points around the room—on the corner table, on various shelves, on a high corner molding—are glass milk bottles filled with what looks like orangey-red dirt or ash. "It's protection paint, used in indigenous ceremonies," Timothy tells me, explaining that it comes from a mountain outside of Arco, Idaho, which is so rich with this clay-paint that the scampering of animals pulls it out of the ground to make the hillside look like it's bleeding. Half the jars in the room, he tells me, are gifts from friends who visited "that mountain with the clay Timothy likes."
Eventually I steer the conversation to weed. Asked to name his worst weed experience, Timothy tells the story of a nightmare overdose on hemp oil, involving two hours of paralysis, one bout of public projectile vomiting, and the unforgettable sight of a dog eating the aforementioned vomit off the street.
Pressed for his best high experience, Timothy opens up to discuss what I've been wanting to hear him talk about since I met him: his participation in A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, Taylor Mac's "Radical Faerie realness ritual" that won the 2017 Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History.
Timothy's Taylor Mac experience doesn't involve actual cannabis-induced highness, but he describes the feelings he experienced during the 24-hour marathon performance of the show last fall in NYC as a life-altering high.
Having befriended Taylor Mac through e-mail exchanges, Timothy came to serve as an indigenous adviser on A 24-Decade History and soon found himself in the cast/production team. Under the title of "Dandy Minion," Timothy served as an intermediary between the artist and the stage, both on tour and at the 24-hour NYC marathon, where, as the hours stacked up, a ravishingly intoxicating exhaustion took over.
"In the show, the 1970s are represented with bathhouses and back rooms, while [Taylor Mac] sings David Bowie's 'Heroes,'" Timothy says. "I was one of the miming sex silhouettes, naked, with 700 people screaming for my bare ass. I experienced the full breadth of the sexual beast, and it was the greatest high of my life."