Working almost exclusively in shell, Townsend replicates designs found on many American Indian sites from the Mississippian period (1000 to 1600 A.D.), including sites at Key Marco in South Florida, Kaufman Island in Central Florida, the Lake Jackson Indian Mounds in North Florida and Cedar Key along Florida�s west coast .
"Not much is generally understood about Southeastern Indian art," Townsend says, "and when I exhibit my works, I spend much of the time explaining the traditions and cultural significance of the various images I carve. However, the meaning of many works of prehistoric art have been lost in time, so interpretation becomes important to more accurately understand them."
In addition to working traditional iconography into his art, Townsend also creates original designs of his own imagination. He interprets the natural beauty of Florida and its inhabitants: the herons, sea turtles, dolphins, dragonflies, butterflies and seahorses.
"The more I study and practice this kind of art," he says, "the more I underst and it and the more adept I feel at interpretation. After working with them a long time, you begin to understand that the symbols are really a written language, a medicine language, the breath of the creator."
"Decorated and undecorated shells have been found at prehistoric sites all over North America," Townsend explains. "Shells were trade goods, as well as items to be used more directly. And they were a valued art medium for recording the people�s history and symbolizing their belief system. The richness of the depictions of wildlife and other living things in their art points to a basic understanding that everything has life in it."
Dan Townsend is based in Tallahassee, Florida. His work is in collections throughout the world � including Thailand, Denmark, South Africa, China, Russia, New Guinea, Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, Borneo, and Viet nam. Pieces he has created are in use by a number of tribal communities as instruments in ceremonial teachings. Townsend was among a select number of Native American artists invited to display their work at the opening of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian. He has also served as an artist in residence at the Art Institute of Chicago.