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Article

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....

Article

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.”...

Article

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....

Article

G. Lola Worthington

[Gwe-la-yo-gwe-la-gya-lis]

(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 ...

Article

G. Lola Worthington

(b San Francisco, CA, Oct 5, 1937).

Native American (Maidu–Wintu) painter, printmaker, photographer, writer, educator, traditional dancer and poet. LaPena, also known as Tauhindauli, spent time with the Nomtipom Wintu and other regional neighboring elders to conserve and regain traditional cultural practices. He was taught traditional tribal songs, dances and ceremonial rituals of Northern California Native American culture that inspired his interest in reviving and preserving Northern California tribal culture and accompanying performance arts. His work, along with Frank Day (1902–76), a late Maidu elder and painter, aided the founding of the Maidu Dancers and Traditionalists, a group dedicated to carrying out traditional cultural forms and social practices. Earning his bachelor’s degree from California State University (CSU), Chico (1965), and an Anthropology Masters of Arts degree from CSU, Sacramento (1978), he taught for the next 30 years in the CSU, Sacramento American Indian Studies program.

For LaPena, his art was a spiritual act, which empowers the maker with an opportunity to achieve a stronger sense of understanding life. Inspired by prehistoric rock painting, some painted images are depicted in total abstraction, while others illustrate a narrative theme. His strong consciousness of his Californian Native American heritage is distinctive and many themes in his compositions provide a powerful commentary in their depiction of the struggles of Northern California Native Americans; “To let the world know what happened in California, and to the indigenous populations points out that survival issues are still of great concern.” His paintings and prints reached a popular acceptance. LaPena exhibited throughout the United States and internationally at the Wheelwright Museum, Santa Fe, NM, the Chicago Art Institute, the San Francisco Museum, the Linder Museum, Stuttgart, the American Arts Gallery, New York, the George G. Heye Center of the Smithsonian, New York, and numerous galleries. In ...

Article

Deborah A. Middleton

Ruled book used for recording accounts used by Native Americans in late 19th century as a paper source for colorful drawings. The emergence of ledger book art is considered to be a material culture link corresponding to the forced relocation of Plains tribes to government reservations in the 19th century. In the early 1860s Plains Indians acquired Western made papers in the form of ledger books and target books, as well as pens, watercolors, graphite and colored pencils, acquired through trade and as proceeds from battles with the American Army, in which they drew scenes that chronicled their experience and cultural traditions. During this early period, the demand for ledger book drawing was high among white settlers who viewed them as curiosities and souvenirs. Contemporary research on Plains Indians ledger book art is challenged by dispersed collections and the fragile and delicate material condition of ledger books due to poor quality paper and bindings. The dismantling of ledger books by art dealers seeking to gain economic profits is the largest threat to preserving these artworks and enabling future research on specific ledger book artists....

Article

G. Lola Worthington

(b Santa Clara Pueblo, NM, Jan 26, 1932).

Native American (Santa Clara Pueblo) potter. A renowned potter and member of the Tafoya family, his father, Camilio Sunflower Tafoya, revived ancestral traditional pottery forms and techniques and his sister, Grace Medicine Flower, was also a successful potter. Camilio produced Santa Clara’s first carved black and brick red pots characteristic of Mimbres pottery. Of his Pueblo upbringing, LoneWolf recalled, “We’d sit in the evenings and do beadwork, drawing, painting, clay modeling, woodworking, costume repairing … while our grandparents told us the old legend and stories.”

LoneWolf was a precision mining equipment machinist until 1971 when a back injury forced him to retire. The job provided him with an awareness of natural Colorado clays, which when heated or fired produce different colors and various effects from the local imbedded metals and chemicals. After his accident, he turned to pottery for a new career that coincided with his family’s pottery revival....

Article

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....

Article

G. Lola Worthington

(b Santa Clara Pueblo, NM, 1938).

Native American (Santa Clara Pueblo) potter. Her father Camilio Sunflower Tafoya, mother Agapita and aunt Margaret Tafoya revived ancestral pottery techniques characteristic of Mimbres pottery. Furthermore, they fabricated superior black and brick red carved-incised pottery forms. A member of the renowned Tafoya family, she, along with her father and brother, Joseph LoneWolf, further revived and expanded pottery forms and techniques in Santa Clara.

Surrounded by celebrated and respected potters, she began making traditional pottery. In the late 1960s, along with her brother Joseph, she began etching designs directly onto the clay using a Sgraffito method. Grace’s work, elegant and aesthetically ingenious, transforms pottery into phenomenal and celebrated showpieces.

Many steps are involved in creating her wares from locally obtained clay. Innovative combined techniques of polished polychrome clay with incised sgraffito produce spectacular creative objects. Coil built, dried, hand polished to a smooth finish with stone or painted with clay slips, she will often add additional color to the body. The contrast of matte clay against polished surface juxtaposes intricately layered designs with negative spaces. After the slip completely dries, she carves fine-line storytelling illustrations into the greenware clay. Polished steel cutting tools produce the very precise and painstaking ...

Article

Jeff Stockton

(Maurilio )

(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....

Article

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 ...

Article

Frank Kempster

[ 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....

Article

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 ...

Article

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....

Article

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....

Article

G. Lola Worthington

[ Jimmy Toddy ]

(b Wide Ruins, AZ, 1928).

American painter. Bill Lippencott, owner of the Wide Ruins Trading Post, gave Yazz paints and paper, encouraging him to paint at the age of seven. Lippencott and wife Sallie recognized Yazz’s artistic talent and advised him to pursue art seriously. At the age of ten, his work was exhibited by a museum in Springfield, IL. Completing his education at Sherman Indian School, CA, he established himself as an artist with a long national career.

Yazz enlisted in the Marines during World War II as a Navajo Code Talker. After the war, he studied art at Mills College in Oakland, CA, working under Yasuo Kuniyoshi . Returning to the Navajo reservation near Wide Ruins, he earnestly began his artistic painting career.

Painting subjects familiar from his daily reservation life, Yazz specialized in typical daily and ceremonial scenes. His paintings utilize flat minimal backgrounds and suspend his subjects in a floating and entertaining world. The paintings record the natural movement of light and air with powerful drama....

Article

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 ...