Native American Pomoan basket-weavers. William Benson (1862–1937) was Eastern Pomo and his wife, Mary Benson (1878–1930), was Central Pomo. Both had Euro-American fathers. After marriage in 1894, they lived at the Central Pomo settlement of Yokaya, CA. Their first promoter was John Hudson (1857–1936), Ukiah medical doctor and amateur anthropologist, who took them to the fair in St Louis, MO, in 1904. Accustomed to dealing with Euro-Americans, William served as informant for the anthropologists Edwin M. Loeb and Jaime de Angulo and became the local agent for Grace Nicholson, a noted Pasadena basketwork dealer, for whom he made ceremonial costumes and implements and wrote down Pomo myths. In 1906 Nicholson acquired exclusive rights to baskets woven by both William and Mary in return for a monthly maintenance fee plus costs for materials and payment for the baskets. Nicholson promoted and publicized the Bensons and brought them to spend the winter of ...
G. Lola Worthington
(b Wheatfield-Sonsela, AZ, June 17, 1912; d Albuquerque, NM, 1992).
Native American (Navajo) painter. Also known as Hashke-yil-e-dale, Dodge was the son of Bitanny Dodge and grandson of Chee Dodge, the first Navajo Tribal Chairman, who raised him and sent him to Bacone College, Muskogee, OK, and the University of New Mexico, where Dodge earned a degree in anthropology in 1933. He earned a master’s degree in Comparative Linguistics and Anthropology, at Columbia University, in 1935.
During World War II, Dodge was a Code Talker in the South Pacific. Injured after four years in battle, he recuperated from his injuries and began to sketch and paint Navajo history, illustrating the cultural and religious systems from the viewpoint of a Navajo. He believed his paintings offered vital information and explanations to prevent the loss of Navajo ceremonial chants and religious traditions.
Entirely self-taught, he actively began to paint in 1954 and selected specific symbols, colors and stories to best express Navajo practices. Each subject, color, dot or feather, accompanied by his personal insight, symbolically preserved his subjects. Horses, maidens, dancers and swirls reflected balance in his compositions. Intuitive, graceful lines, colors, forms and his subject’s appeal reveal truthful honest representations. The bluebird, symbolic of the Eastern Seagoing people, and the flying swallow, symbolic of the Western Swallow people, were included in his paintings. Mixing neutral background with active flourishes, mysterious uncanny counter color and symbolic graphic line work, his paintings are thrilling and awe-inspiring....
Jenifer P. Borum
(b Dallas, GA, Oct 11, 1928; d Alcoa, TN, Aug 12, 1994).
Sculptor of African American and Native American heritage. Born to Homer and Rosie Mae White, Bessie Ruth White was the seventh of 13 children. She married Charles Harvey at age 14, and moved with him to Buena Vista, GA. She later separated from Harvey and moved to Alcoa, TN, where she settled and raised 11 children as a single mother.
Throughout most of her adult life, Harvey experienced visions that did not engage the dogma of her Christian faith, but rather revealed a powerful divine presence in nature. After the death of her mother in 1974, she began to see faces in the dead branches and roots found in the woods near her home in Aloca, and believed them to be animated by spirits. By adorning these roots and branches with paint, costume jewelry and found materials, Harvey revealed the identity of the spirits locked therein—some Biblical and some lost African ancestors. She understood her role as that of a conduit for divine intelligence, claiming “God is the artist in my work.”...
(b Karuk territory, CA, July 26, 1875; d Somesbar, CA, July 19, 1947).
Native American basket-weaver. She was born of a Wiyot mother and Euro-American father. She achieved a secure life with her second marriage, in 1895, to Luther Hickox, a half-blood miner and mill-owner who later became Justice of the Peace. She directed her weaving to the élite market, specializing in a lidded ‘gift basket’ with undulating profile and a high knob. On these she delineated main designs with supreme attention to the relationship of positive and negative elements and embellished them with a complex scheme of bordering designs and shifts in weaving technique. Her second daughter, Louise Hickox (b 29 April 1896; d 18 Sept 1962), also a basket-weaver, achieved almost equal results. Both were interviewed extensively by anthropologist Lila O’Neale in 1928 and provided most of the technical information for O’Neale’s 1932 publication of Yurok–Karok basketwork. Their baskets were featured in a 1990 exhibition at the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles. In ...
G. Lola Worthington
(b Buffalo, NY, 1950).
Tuscarora artist, writer, educator, and museum director. Hill studied at the Art Institute of Chicago (1968–70), and was awarded a Master of Arts degree from SUNY, Buffalo, NY (1980).
Intrigued with Seneca General Ely Parker (General Grant’s Military Secretary), Hill investigated Parker’s life, which took him to Washington, DC, for two years. Hill began to identify with Parker’s experience and realized he would devote himself to enlightening others about Native American arts, knowledge, education, and culture.
Hill was skilled in painting, photography, carving, beading, and basket weaving, and many of these works are located at the Canadian Museum of Civilizations, Quebec; the Woodland Indian Cultural Center, Brantford, Ontario; the Cleveland Museum of Art; the Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, OK; the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, Washington, DC; and the Seneca Iroquois National Museum, Salamanca, NY. He taught at McMaster University, Mohawk College, Six Nations Polytechnic, and SUNY at Buffalo. Hill developed a culturally based Seneca Language curriculum and training models for teaching....
G. Lola Worthington
(b Alert Bay, BC, Canada, 1950).
Kwakwaka’wakw woodcarver. Hunt’s maternal grandfather, Mungo Martin (Kwa-giulth; 1879–1962), was one of the last living carvers on northern Vancouver Island, founder of the Thunderbird Park program in Victoria and one of the first to formulate Kwakwaka’wakw sculptural and painting styles. His paternal father, George Hunt, was an ethnologist, while his brothers, Tony and Stanley, also worked as woodcarvers.
Raised in Victoria British Columbia, and the first to finish high school, his encouraging teacher, who respected his culture, let him carve. Under his father, he became an apprentice in the Carving Program at Thunderbird Park, next to the British Columbia Provincial Museum.
At 21, Hunt assumed the title of Chief Carver at Thunderbird Park, a post held for 12 years. Resigning in 1986, Hunt began his independent artistic career. He is the first Native artist inducted into the Order of British Columbia, 1991, and in 1994 became a member of the Order of Canada. The University of Victoria awarded him an honorary doctorate in ...
[Jameson, Charles; Yakuglas]
(b Port Townsend, WA, c. 1870; d Alert Bay, BC, 1938).
Native American Kwakiutl wood-carver. He was the son of Kugwisi’la’ogwa, a Kwakiutl woman from Fort Rupert, BC, and a white American sawmill owner from Port Townsend. When his mother died in 1877, he was adopted by her tribe and inherited the right to work as a wood-carver, receiving training from a kinsman. As a child, James’s left hand was injured in a shotgun accident, and he probably began carving because he was unable to participate in other activities. He was one of the first Kwakiutl wood-carvers to establish a reputation outside his own society, and he is best known for the hundreds of small totem poles he carved for sale to non-natives in the last 20–30 years of his life. James also produced traditional objects, including totem poles and masks, for use in potlatches and other Kwakiutl social events. The mask of Sisiutl, the dangerous ‘double-headed serpent’ (before 1914; Victoria, BC, Prov. Mus.), for example, was used in the Tlásulá (‘weasel dance’), one of the two principal ceremonial complexes in Kwakiutl society. James was instrumental in establishing what might be termed the Fort Rupert substyle of Southern Kwakiutl art, introducing new forms and the use of colour (...
(b Washoe territory, CA–NV border, c. 1850; d Carson City, NV, Dec 6, 1925).
American basket-weaver of Native American Washoe descent. She worked, originally as a laundress, for Abe Cohn (1859–1934) and Amy Cohn (1861–1919), owners of the Emporium Co. clothing store in Carson City, NV. With their encouragement, she created a fine art curio style of basketwork, imitated by most Washoe weavers, and by 1897 she had developed the coiled, spheroid degikup basket type, finely decorated with red (redbud) and black (bracken fern) designs in a scattered arrangement. She also created a collection of miniature baskets for Amy Cohn and made simpler twined basketwork souvenirs. She spent winters at the Emporium Co. in Carson City and summers at their outlet, The Bicose, at Tahoe City, Lake Tahoe, CA. In 1922 a short documentary film was made about her work, and in 1925 Edward S(heriff) Curtis photographed her at the Emporium. Amy Cohn kept a ledger of Dat So La Lee’s baskets, recording their dimensions, dates of inception and completion, along with her interpretation of the designs. The ledger is preserved in the Nevada State Museum in Carson City, which also houses over a dozen of Dat So La Lee’s major works. Most of the information promulgated by Amy Cohn about Dat So La Lee was fabricated to make her appear more traditional and less innovative, including giving her a birth date before the start of continued Euro-American influence in the region. In contrast to her treatment of other weavers, Amy Cohn referred to Dat So La Lee by her Washoe name, disregarding the weaver’s own preference to interact with Euro-American society under her English name, Louisa Keyser. Amy Cohn promoted her as an ‘Indian Princess’, claiming special family rights to basket shapes and designs. She also fabricated a ceremonial function and design vocabulary for Dat So La Lee’s baskets and interpreted them as records of Washoe history and mythology. As Abe Cohn considered her major pieces to be works of art, he demanded high prices and in ...
(b New York, 1845; d after 1911).
American sculptor. Born to an African American father and a Native American mother, she was the first black American sculptor to achieve national prominence. During her early childhood she travelled with her family in the Chippewa tribe, by whom she was known as Wildfire. At 12 she attended school at Albany, NY (1857–9), then a liberal arts course at Oberlin College, OH (1860–63). Lewis then went to Boston (1863) to study with Edward Brackett (1818–1908) and Anne Whitney. Her medallion of the abolitionist John Browne and a bust of the Civil War hero Col. Robert Shaw were exhibited at the Soldiers’ Relief Fair (1864), Boston; the latter sold over 100 plaster copies, enabling Lewis to travel to Rome (1865). There she was introduced to the White Marmorean Flock, a group of women sculptors, including Harriet Hosmer and Emma Stebbins...
G. Lola Worthington
(b Nice, CA, Jan 12, 1907; d May 31, 1993).
Native-American (Long Valley Cache Creek Pomo) basket weaver. Her father, Yanta Boone, was Potter Valley Pomo and her mother, Daisy Hansen, was Losel Cache Creek Pomo, and McKay was raised by her maternal grandmother, Sarah Taylor. Described as an unusually quiet and sickly child, she frequently talked and screamed during her sleep. Hearing her mumble, Sarah, understood Mabel was a Dreamer, an individual contacted by a Spirit. As a medium between the spiritual and the human world, the Spirit directed her to become a healer in her Pomo community and instructed her in techniques of healing and basket weaving. Her baskets represent a tangible object communicated by the Spirit for medicinal treatments.
Many consider her the last Dreamer of the Pomo people and also a prodigy at basket making. Never “taught” to weave a basket, she asserted the Spirit strictly instructed her when she slept to create baskets. She considered her baskets as only for healing and not beautiful or attractive objects. Nevertheless, the graceful detail of her baskets brought her worldwide attention. Her baskets are collected and exhibited abroad and in the United States in museum collections....
(b Laredo, TX, 1943).
American painter and printmaker of Mexican and Yaqui descent (mestizo). Peña’s art celebrated the strength of a native people who met the harsh realities of life in an uncompromising land, and his work was a tribute to the Native Americans who survived by living in harmony with an adversarial, untamed environment. His artwork was inspired by places in the Southwest that were part of an enduring landscape and represented the ancient heritage of the region that is now Arizona and New Mexico.
Peña’s work was defined by its bold color and form and dynamic composition. Abstract landscapes merged with human forms, and blanket and pottery patterns entered into the overall design. A prolific artist, Peña produced primarily watercolors and etchings, in addition to drawings, graphics, ceramics and jewelry. Irrespective of the medium, the recurring motif (and Peña’s artistic trademark) was a modeled, angular profile of a Native American man or woman, which he used as a simplified storytelling device....
G. Lola Worthington
(b Navajo Reservation, 1896; d 1972).
Native American (Navajo) silversmith. Peshlakai is the son of Slender Maker of Silver, Beshtlagai-ithline-athlososigi, and nephew of Peshlagai Atsidfi and Slender Maker Old Silversmith, all foremost of the first generation of named Navajo silversmiths. Recognized among their peers as “innovators” in new forms of jewelry, his family refined and complemented the older Spanish techniques and influences from Mexican plateros. Learning the techniques and expertise of silversmithing from his father and uncles, Peshlakai became single-handedly recognized for his blending of elaborate and high-quality precise silver and turquoise jewelry work techniques. Analogous with his father’s work, he innovated and promoted stamp work and wire twist skills into uncommon, fresh artistry fashioning pieces into pioneering new forms of harmony and sturdiness. Until his death, he refined his silversmith techniques. Commencing his personalized fabrications in the 1920s, his pieces became immensely popular during the 1930s and 1940s, but his finest works were created during a period from1940 through ...
(b Blunden Harbour, BC, c. 1873; d Blunden Harbour, 1967).
Native American Kwakiutl wood-carver. Hereditary chief of the ’Nak’waxda’wx lineage, he was the most distinctive of Kwakiutl carvers. He carved the full range of objects used in Southern Kwakiutl society, from totem poles and painted house-fronts to masks and whistles, as well as miniature totem poles for sale to non-natives.
Seaweed’s early pieces reflected the more restrained, classic style that typified Southern Kwakiutl carving of the late 19th century. By the 1940s he had developed a flamboyant style that later became associated with wood-carvers of the Blunden Harbour–Smith Inlet region (see ). These later works are marked by a clarity in painted design and carved planes, an emphasis on the treatment of the eye and nostrils and a dramatic expression, but were still within the design tradition of the Northwest Coast. At first Seaweed prepared his own paints by adding pigments to fish-egg oil, using them to create a soft, matt finish, but from the 1930s he adopted commercial enamel paints, which served to enhance the theatrical effect of his work. The compass, used by other carvers of the region, enabled Seaweed to draw the distinctive eye area and to incorporate arcs and circles into the designs of his carvings. His work culminated in the production of dance masks such as the ‘monster-bird’ masks used in the ...
(b Western Oklahoma, 1861; d Stecker, Oklahoma, Dec 14, 1940).
Native American Kiowa draughtsman, silversmith and beadworker. He was the son of Chief Dohasan III, keeper of one of the Kiowa pictographic calendar counts, and younger brother of Ohettoint (1852–1934), one of the Fort Marion artist–prisoners also known as Charlie Buffalo (see Native North American art, §IV, 2 and Howling Wolf). Silverhorn was a key cultural figure and the most significant and prolific Native American artist in the last part of the 19th century and the first part of the 20th. He probably learnt pictography at an early age. As a ceremonial leader, he was keeper of one of the sacred Kiowa medicine bundles. As a craftsman, he produced beadwork, war bonnets and jewellery made from German silver, an alloy of nickel, copper and zinc. For anthropologists, he illustrated religious ceremonies, myths and folklore, and painted model tipis and shields. Most of his works on paper and muslin are romantic evocations of the past and do not refer to specific events or individuals. An exception to his general output is the ...
[ Grey Squirrel ]
(b Sheep Springs, NM, 1922; d Gallup, NM, April 23, 1983).
Navajo sand painter. Stevens, also known as Grey Squirrel, was a Navajo artist and ceremonial singer known for furthering the practice of permatizing sand paintings. He was born into the Kinyaà áanii clan. As a boy his father taught him the Blessingway chant and Stevens conducted his first ceremony when he was 18. Sand painting was a part of some ceremonies.
Beginning in 1946, Stevens gave roadside demonstrations of sand painting near a tourist shop near Lupton, AZ, and experimented with permatizing his work but he was not satisfied with the results. In 1952 he began working with Luther Douglas, an Anglo artist from Sun Valley, ID, and tried various methods to improve his technique. He worked with Otomi artist David Villaseñor who developed a permatizing method that became a hobby kit sold on the railroad lines to entertain passengers. Once Stevens settled on a method, other Navajo artists began emulating his technique. He accommodated the publicity of his sand painting technique, which accelerated the acceptance of sand painting as an art form. In the late 1950s, he performed over 100 demonstrations on live television as well as at the Arizona State Fair and Arizona State Museum....
G. Lola Worthington
(b Tahlequah, OK, July 8, 1941; d Muskogee, OK, Aug 13, 1967).
Creek–Seminole painter. Son of Loucinda Lewis and Rev. John Tiger, and father of Dana, Lisa, and Jerome Tiger, who all became recognized artists. Tiger, also known as Kocha, grew up near Eufaula, OK. His youth was spent accompanying and assisting his grandfather’s roving Indian Baptist Church. He learned English at public school in Muskogee, OK, but dropped out of high school. He enrolled at the Engineering Institute in Cleveland, OH, 1963–4, despite not having a high school diploma. He was committed to becoming an artist. Not only inventive and highly prolific, he possessed an uncanny ability to draw virtually anything after a momentary glance.
Producing hundreds of paintings between 1962 and 1967, his natural sense of color, design symmetry, draftsmanship training, and knowledge of anatomy expedited his output. Appealing beauty and spirituality demonstrated to many observers, not just Native American, images recalling emotional connections with preceding historic events. Reminiscences of the dismal treatment of Native American throughout history, without resorting to explicit depictions, provided haunting, poetic, and pensive impressions. His later work became even more eloquent, accompanied by potent shades of mysticism and spirituality. His style was unique and new in Native painting. Delicate and subtle use of line and muted colors brought drama to scenes that conveyed the inhumane treatment of Native Americans. Never going over the top, Tiger nevertheless evoked melancholy emotions. In ...
G. Lola Worthington
[ Yazzie Bahe ; Little Grey ]
(b Rough Rock/Wide Ruins/Chinle, AZ, Nov 19, 1918; d Nov 2000).
Navajo Salt River Bend painter. Son of Navajo artist Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie. Tsinajinnie enjoyed drawing and painting as a child by drawing and carving horses, cows, and sheep on smooth rocks. Later he sketched on wrapping paper and pencils from the local trading post. At 15, he began studying art at the Fort Apache Indian School, Santa Fe, NM. From 1932 to 1936, he attended the Santa Fe Indian School, together with Hopi, Zuni, and Pueblo tribal artists. At Santa Fe, he began depicting tribal dances and ceremonies. Under Dorothy Dunn, he perfected his unique painting style. Dunn wrote “he was a paradoxical painter, fluctuating between creations of high artistry and the chameleon aspect of his world.” He became expert at bringing forth exclusive Navajo events, remote people and landscapes. Tsinajinnie served in the South Pacific during 1944–6, and he studied at the Oakland College of Arts in Craft before commencing his artistic career....
G. Lola Worthington
(b Arizona, 1950).
American jeweler, sculptor, painter, and silversmith, of Mescalero Apache–Navajo descent. White Eagle began his career as a silversmith under the tutelage of legendary Navajo artisan Fred Peshlakai , at age five, learning by observation and developing an artistic understanding of Peshlakai’s aesthetic approach. At nine, he began making and selling his own jewelry at Union Square in Los Angeles. Later moving to Palm Springs, CA he continued to generate and sell his jewelry on the street under the date palms trees.
Always handmade, his jewelry pieces used the finest available quality of semi-precious stones. Singular details and features demonstrated his exclusive and unique artistic vision and styling. In 1973, the Yacqui artist, Art Tafoya, began a silversmith apprenticeship with White Eagle, studying the hand-stamped old style embossing skills of jewelry; he continued the historic creation of extraordinary designs.
Bold and substantial, White Eagle’s jewelry balanced a focal fluid turquoise stone against deeply carved flora and linear design lines. His pieces represented transcultural combinations of traditional Navajo silver interwoven with mainstream expectations of Native American style. He daringly counterbalanced mixed semi-precious stonework with irregular fusions of silver positive space. Smooth, amazingly detailed stamp work combined with bent offset features providing an overall asymmetrical daring quality....
Jenifer P. Borum
(b Ash Grove, MO, Feb 20, 1890; d Chicago, IL, Dec 25, 1972).
American painter of African, Cherokee, Creek, and European ancestry. Although Yoakum claimed to have been born on a Navajo reservation in 1888, his birthplace and childhood home has been established as Ash Grove, MO. His aunt was adopted by a Navajo family, and although the artist drew great inspiration from the Navajo, his connection to them was imaginary. Yoakum’s life was indeed one of adventure and travel—he toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, the Ringling Bros. Circus, and also traveled around the world as stow-away and later as a soldier in World War I. Yet the line between fact and fantasy will always be blurred when contending with his lyrical landscapes that ostensibly offer a record of his far-ranging adventures to exotic locales.
While Yoakum began to draw by the 1950s, he did not devote himself to this calling until he had retired in the early 1960s. Settling in Chicago in ...