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Native Roots

Updated: Nov 26, 2021

Sacred Manned, 2017

By Jerry Ingram

Limited edition print

Thanksgiving is upon us, but a lesser-known fact is November is American Indian Heritage month. While most Americans ramp up for the holidays, starting with Thanksgiving, not much thought is given to the Native people that lived here long before Dutch settlers landed in Plymouth Rock. The cultural climate has shifted over the last 20 years or so to be more sensitive to indigenous peoples that have been long under valued to our modern society. Finally, sports teams are dropping derogatory names like “Redskins” or “Indians” while others like the “Chiefs” or the “Braves” and “Blackhawks” have not. Perhaps, the latter has more to do with a perceived positive characteristic then a skin-color or a logo based on a stereotype. We’re trying to move in the right direction, but it’s a slow march. While it’s not acceptable for a crowd of people making monkey noises or hanging gestures at sporting events, the chopping “tomahawk” gesture or 50,000 people making mock war chants on nationally broadcast sporting events is somehow still acceptable.

Kiowa Migration, 2007

By Mirac Creepingbear

Mixed media

The purpose of this particular article is not to dive into or politicize the collective treatment of Native People, (not just here, but around the world), but to shed a little light on their artistic influence in our culture.

Primal, strong and rich with symbolism, forged out of heritage and spirituality, the reach of Native American influence has touched just about every modern art movement. Picasso, O’Keeffe, Kahlo, and Pollock, just to name a few. The Meso American lineage in this hemisphere going back to the Aztec, Inca and other regional tribes that fanned out across what is now North and South America. This also included the Inuit people, way up north. The European continent had the contributions of many Celtic and Scottish clans along with Nordic and Danes, as well as, early Spaniards. Africa had many tribes from many regions of their continent too. From the early hieroglyphs in ancient Egypt to the richly dyed pattern work and detailed wood carving in Kenya. Let’s not forget the Aboriginals in Australia, again, with hypnotic pattern work. Lastly, Asia, whose indigenous global influence is too numerous to count.

America (Mural), 1955

By Rufino Tamayo

Oil on canvas, 24" x 85"

Black Hill with Cedar, 1941

By Georgia O'Keeffe

Oil on canvas

From within the art community, artists and scholars themselves are questioning all the conventional conversations around native art. Just because you didn’t study painting in the Salon de ’Paris, is that a less valuable form of art than if you were a Mohawk using berries to stain cowhide to tell a story of your ancestors? Why is it “classic literature” if its Shakespeare, but it’s mythology if it’s a story passed down from generations about the world being created on a turtle’s back (Iroquois). Is a belief system less valid because a culture evolves? The belief of Greek Gods was just as real to the people of ancient Greece, as Michelangelo’s belief in god when he painted the Sistine Chapel.

Crow War Party, 2016

By Leyland Stewart

Watercolor on cotton etching, 12" x 18"

Modern terms like Naiveté or Primitive Art suggest a lack of technical proficiency or intellectual content than say Baroque or Neo-Classicism. Either way, if you’re a

student of the arts, it warrants discussion.

So, I’ve found some examples I’d like to highlight, but know there are millions of examples!

Moon Woman Cuts the Circle

By Jackson Pollack

Oil on Canvas, 42" x 40"

Just think of all the casual aesthetics that permeate our everyday lives. Tattoos for starters, along with tie-dyes, dream catchers, graffiti, henna, mandalas, ceramics (any type), just off the top of my head. There are many contemporary Native American film makers and visual artist that seek to bring about change in the attitudes towards how people view them. A seemingly daunting task considering the American Melting Pot. As each generation evolves, it blends cultures and traditions, yet keeps a premium on ethnicity. A tricky tightrope of preserving ethnic heritage and assimilating to the notion of what it means to be “American”. Current Native Americans artists are constantly fighting a battle to preserve their language, culture, and art, despite being disenfranchised from their native lands and resources. Rites and rituals are harder to pass down to younger generations on the sole purpose of the nature of those events. Native People have a strong oral tradition of passing these legends and ceremonies from one generation to the next. In short, there are no history books, and besides, history is written by the winners.

Riders at Sunset, 1935-1945

By Ernest Martin Hennings

Oil on canvas, 30" x 36"

The Eclipse Dance, 1910-1914

By Edward S. Curtis

Print, 5" x 8"

Indains Simulating Buffalo, 1908

Frederic Remington

Oil on Canvas, 40" x 26"

Through the latter half of the 20th century there has been a push to document Native American legends from dance rituals and naming rights, to tribal family celebrations. Still, even with the best attempts, there’s some things lost in translation.

Here’s hoping everyone has safe travels this Thanksgiving. Remember you can always leave comments or questions or suggestions for future post if you like, and you can do so on any of Roc Paint Sip’s social media platforms.

Between the Leopard and Jaguar, 2019

By Melanie Cervantes


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