In a recent interview, I was asked about the artwork for my book, The Age of Myths and Legends. The interviewer asked why I thought that the art was so important to this particular work. Laughing, I explained that the art was integral to the book because I am a mediocre writer at best. The artwork also allowed me to display my love for the fantasy genre as well. But, more importantly, the artwork allowed me to express these old tales in a medium that is just as powerful as the spoken word. Even though I had placed captions beneath the illustrations in the book, my hope was that readers would immediately understand what was happening in each of the images. That is probably the aim of every artist, because in truth, artist are storytellers as well. We don't often think of visual artist as such because most visual artist aren't necessarily masters of the oratory arts. However, if we take a sincere look at the storytelling traditions of most Native American tribes, we will see that artwork was, and still is, an important aspect to the storytelling art itself.
I consider myself extremely lucky to have been raised in Southwestern Oklahoma as this area has always been a hotbed for Native American talent. From an early age I was exposed to so many talented artist who had created works that captured the essence of what it is to be Native American. But even before Oklahoma was a state, the tribes of this area had already been telling their stories for a very long time.
The earliest Native American artists painted with natural color pigments mixed with fat, usually buffalo or bear fat. These Native Artists then applied their paints to animal hides such as shirts, robes, leggings and teepees. Usually, the images they created held personal meaning to the artists or the artists' family. Some images commemorated great battles or successful hunts. Other paintings were used in ceremonies and made use of sacred images.
The term ledger art comes from the accounting ledger books that were a source of paper for the tribes of the plains during the late 1800's. Most of these ledgers came from traders, government agents, missionaries, and military officers. The plains artists were also exposed to new tools such as ink fountain pens, crayons, and watercolor paints. Typically, male artist tended to create images of valor while women tended to create geometric patterns.
Flat-Style Southern Plains Art
Flat-Style Southern Plains Art is a style of painting that portrayed ceremonial and social scenes of Kiowa life and stories from the old oral traditions. The style is noted for its use of solid color fields, minimal backgrounds, a flat perspective, and emphasis on details of dance regalia. This style of painting was created, in part, by the Kiowa Six; Native American artists who had received formal artist training at the University of Oklahoma in the mid-1920's. All six went on to enjoy international acclaim.
The 1940's through the 1970's saw an explosion of artistic styles blossom in Southwestern Oklahoma. While many artists of this era continued to create images taken from the old oral traditions, they also began experimenting with a variety of mediums and techniques. Notable artists of this era included...
Bobby Hill (White Buffalo)
The Kiowa artist Bobby Hill (White Buffalo) was noted for his dramatic use of light and texture. Undoubtedly, his work as a technical illustrator, commercial artist, promotional director, scenic artist & set designer for Lawrence Welk provided Bobby with the ability to create kinetic energy in his paintings. His early work borrowed from the clean lines of the Kiowa Six, but in time, he developed his own unique style. Bobby exhibited his artwork at the American Indian Exposition (Anadarko, OK), where he won awards for his artwork three years in a row including the Grand Award in 1969. Bobby also exhibited at the Philbrook Museum of Art (Tulsa, OK) & the Peabody Museum of Salem, MA. Bobby was given a solo exhibition at the Southern Plains Indian Museum & Craft Center (Anadarko, OK) & participated in its Contemporary Southern Plains Indian Painting touring exhibit in 1972.
Bobby received commissions from the Southern Plains Indian Museum & Craft Center for exhibit projects, including a Ghost Dance shirt in 1967. In 1974, Bobby received a commission from the Oklahoma Indian Arts & Crafts Cooperative (Anadarko) for two Southern Plains Indian tipis.
Bobby's artwork is also featured in several private & public art collections, including the Carnegie (OK) High School, the Museum of Northern Arizona (Flagstaff), the U.S. Department of the Interior Indian Arts & Crafts Board (Washington, D.C.) and in various collections throughout Western Europe.
The Kiowa artist Robert Redbird was a grandson of Monroe Tsatoke, a member of the famed Kiowa Six.
With the encouragement of his grandfather, Robert went on to master oil, acrylics, watercolor, pencil, pastel, pen & ink, & prints. However, it was his use of an airbrush that cemented Robert into the pantheon of artistic greats. In 1967, Redbird designed the poster for the US International Open Polo Game tournament, which allowed him the opportunity to meet Prince Charles of Wales. Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry declared June 7, 2003 as "Robert Redbird Day" to celebrate the artist's many creative and humanitarian achievements. The Daily Oklahoman once wrote of his work, "Perhaps the best tribute to Redbird's unusual style is that his Indian figures seem massive and monolithic, yet at the same time somehow free-floating, dreamlike and surrealistic. Blankets unite pairs of figures creating one organic, earth-rooted whole, like a kind of human boulder, in such Redbird paintings as 'Ceremonial Time' and 'Kiowa Courtship.' " Robert's artwork can be found all over the world.
Doc Tate Nevaquayah
The Comanche artist, Doc Tate Nevaquayah, has been called the Leonardo Da Vinci of the Indian art world. A self-taught artist, flutist, composer, dancer, lecturer, and Methodist lay minister, Nevaquaya gave numerous flute and art workshops throughout the United States, including classes at Brigham Young University (1972) and Georgetown University (1974). He made more than twenty-five television appearances, on shows televised nationally and by the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Among numerous recognitions that came to him were six Grand Awards and the Outstanding Indian Artists Award from Southwestern State College in Weatherford (1969); Indian of the Year award from Oscar Rose Junior College, Midwest City (1975); Outstanding Citizen of Diamond Jubilee Heritage Week from the Apache Chamber of Commerce (1982); the LaDonna Harris Award from Oklahomans for Indian Opportunity (1986); and a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (1986); and the Artist of the West Award at the American Indian and Cowboy Artists National Western Art Exhibition in San Dimas, California (1994). The Governor's Arts Award named him an Oklahoma Treasure in 1995. His artwork was noted for clear, crisp colors and almost all of his paintings possessed a dream-like quality to them.
Each and everyone of these artists deserves their own page and, in the future, I may do a spotlight on the amazing works of Mirac Creepingbear, Parker Boyiddle Jr., Cruz McDaniels, Sherman Chaddlesone, Quanah Parker Burgess, The Nevaquaya Brothers, Huzo Paddlety, Thomas Poolaw, Lee Tsatoke Jr., R.G. Geionty. I could go on and on about the many artists from the area who have accomplished extraordinary things in the artistic world while staying true to their culture. Each and everyone of these artists are superb storytellers and I am thankful that I have had the chance to experience their stories. The next time you see a work by a Native American artist don't just appreciate the art for its aesthetic appeal, try to see the story that the artist is telling. I promise that it will make your art experience that much more enjoyable.
T. D. Hill (Wichita, Kiowa, Pawnee) is a Native American artist, writer, and motivational speaker
What Reviewers are saying...
"The Age of Myths and Legends will take you on an exciting journey through Native American folklore. T.D. Hill artfully draws together characters from many indigenous traditions including his own, exposing both the uniqueness of each story and the commonalities across them. Hill’s beautiful paintings also give these fearsome creatures full visual effect. A valuable and thorough collection of the earliest folktales and teachings of Native American elders."
"Hill takes you on a mesmerizing journey through the tales of monsters and evil beings in Native American folklore. The similarities among the tales across peoples fascinated me and gave me goose bumps, especially when great distances separated the peoples! Hill's art masterfully adds a visual chill to the image his words paint, eliciting an extra shiver of delighted terror."
"Perfect for those who love mythology, and especially mythology of the First Americans. I’m definitely looking forward to the next in the series."