News & Events
Discover Mid-America April 2005
Traditions continue to
evolve in Native American art
by Ken Weyand
Prior to the infamous Trail
of Tears eradication in 1838, the Cherokees were considered advanced.
They had a government organized under a constitution, an alphabet for
their language and desire to educate their children as to the times.
Yet despite the pressures of assimilation, and patronizing
and sometimes demeaning assessments from white society, the Cherokees
in Oklahoma have retained their heritage of arts and crafts. Their creativity,
like those of other native people, can be seen in paintings, sculpture,
colorful basketry, pottery, jewelry, beading and textile arts.
Still the struggle to be recognized as artists amid the
dominant culture was long. It wasnt until the early 1960s that a
transition in viewing and evaluating Native American art moved from non-Native
experts to one where Native American artists began to shape
and define their own visual, written and performing arts took place.
The time coincided with the Kennedy administration as Native
American artists gained heightened visibility and the so-called flat-painting
style began to lose favor.
A few years later, and in response to artists demands
that arts competitions change their rules, Howes work swept
the Philbrooks top awards in 1960 and 1961.
One young painter energized by Howes work and determination
was Joan Hill (Creek-Cherokee). Born in Muskogee, OK, Hill taught high
school and later was art and publicity director for the Muskogee Art Guild
from 1958 to 1964.
Hill created murals for the Department of the Interior,
portraits and book illustrations, including for a book of poetry about
the Five Civilized Tribes of Muskogee. Hill won the Best of Show Award
in the 2004 Master Artists show at the Five Civilized Tribes Museum.
In 1962, the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) was
founded. According to the Encyclopedia of North America Indians, the IAIA
was advanced by the Kennedy administration, Rockefeller Foundation-funded
Southwest Indian Arts Project (1958-61), the Indian Arts and Crafts Board
(IACB) and by the poet-writer John Collier, the Indian commissioner who
had initiated the IACB in 1935.
In 1964, the IAIA and IACB organized and sponsored a series
of key show, beginning with its first invitational Exhibition of Indian
Art in Washington, DC. One of the artists that created excitement at the
exhibition was self-taught painter-sculptor Jerome Tiger, whose
ethereal depictions of tribal life and simplicity of form commanded
top honors in major competitions.
The Tiger Tradition
Born in 1941 in Oklahoma, Jerome Tiger, a full-blood Creek-Seminole,
grew up on the campground of his maternal grandfathers Indian Baptist
church in Eufala. After listening to stories of his heritage at the feet
of Coleman Lewis, his Baptist missionary grandfather, Tiger continued
his education in Muskogee.
Among other things, Tiger was a high school dropout, a gifted
boxer with a reputation as a street fighter, and a laborer. He married,
and was the father of three children.
In 1962, he began what was to become a six-year career as
a self-taught artist, painting vivid images based on his heritage. Although
he had no knowledge of historic masterworks, his paintings were compared
with them for their spiritual vision and technical virtuosity. While his
art was traditional in subject matter and composition, it was a radical
departure from the classical Indian art. By the time his life was cut
short by a firearms accident at the age of 26, Tiger had produced hundreds
of paintings that assured his legacy as a prominent Native American artist.
During those years, Indian art buyers were perfectionists,
demanding high levels of quality and authenticity. Tigers work satisfied
even the most critical buyers, and he won awards and praise throughout
the art world during his short career. His work inspired many art lovers
to collect Native American art.
Since his untimely death, Tigers deeply spiritual
style has greatly influenced other Indian artists. Since 1970, the Jerome
Tiger Art Company, a family-owned business, has reproduced 33 limited
edition prints of Tigers paintings. Many have been sold out, and
are available only on the secondary market. The available prints can be
seen online at www.jerometigerart.com.
Tigers wife, Peggy, and her cousin, Molly Babcock,
produced a 285-page limited edition hardback book, The Life and Art of
Jerome Tiger. War to Peace, Death to Life. The book is the most complete
collection of Tigers work, with art reproductions in color, along
with other black and white photographs throughout the book. It is available
through the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma
Dana Tiger was five years old when her father died. A major
artist in her own right, in a 2001 interview with The Daily Oklahoman,
she remembers her father as a magnetic, charismatic man.
In another interview with Canku Ota, an online newspaper
serving Native America, Dana reminisced about her life in Tiger household.
He was so full of life, she said. He would
just draw people to him. Our home was always full of people because of
him. He was so generous, sweet and kind. Thats what attracted others
to him as much as his paintings did.
Johnny Tiger, Jr., Jeromes brother, grew up listening
to their maternal grandfather, Coleman Lewis, as he recounted the history
of the Creek people on trips to Baptist churches in rural Oklahoma. Thus
he received the same inspiration as his brother to paint with feeling
the stories of his ancestors and their survival.
Sharing his brothers talent for painting, Johnny is
a 1982 Master Artist at the Five Civilized Tribes Museum. He has won numerous
awards at various shows and exhibitions.
Johnny paints and sculpts at his studio southeast of Muskogee.
His painting, Buskita (Green Corn Ceremony), received the
Indian Heritage Award at the 2004 Masters Art Show.
Nurturing and Exhibiting the Art
Two Oklahoma institutions strive to preserve, advance and
promote Native American art and culture in the state and nation.
the Cherokee Heritage Center in Tahlequah and the Five Civilized Tribes
Museum in Muskogee.
To see outstanding traditional Cherokee artwork at the Heritage
Center, a visitor should plan to visit during the annual Homecoming Art
Show, one of two major competitive shows that showcase Cherokee art. It
is only open to artists who have membership in the Cherokee Nation, United
Keetoowah Band or Eastern Band of Cherokees. Artists from across the nation
compete in several categories for more than $5,000 in cash awards.
The 2004 Homecoming Art Show opened Oct. 8 and ran through
Dec. 31. Sponsored by Cherokee Casinos and the Oklahoma Arts Council,
the show was divided into traditional and contemporary divisions, and
included basketry, jewelry and beading, pottery, sculpture and visual
First prize was given in each division as well as a Grand
Prize award. This years Grand Prize winner was Martha Berry for
her beaded Bandolier bag The Plants Became Allies. To see
entered work online, visit www.cherokeeheritage.org.
The Cherokee National Historical Society, established in
1963, operates the Heritage Center. Mickel Yantz, museum curator, said
the society is committed to being the best and most visited tribally specific
educational museum in the world.
That means we are also committed to making the Homecoming
Art show the best art show for Cherokee artists, he said. For
us, this means increasing the quality of art and increasing the sales
and recognition for Cherokee artists worldwide.
The Trail of Tears Art Show and Sale is set for May 1 through
June 21 at the Heritage Center. The exhibition in nine categories features
works from across the U.S. Other shows and exhibits include an Artists
Showcase, Feb. 1 through April 20, and other showcases that include basketry,
beadwork, pottery, and contemporary arts. There are also classes and lectures
scheduled throughout the year.
In addition to hosting the two shows and other exhibits,
the Cherokee National Museum at the Heritage Center features a shop where
visitors can purchase handcrafted Cherokee clothing, pottery, pins, jewelry,
baskets and weavings.
To the south, the new Cherokee Arts & Pottery Center
at I-40 at the Warner Exit offers an opportunity to purchase arts and
pottery items handcrafted by Cherokee artisans. Artist showcases are held
the second Saturday of each month at this location. For more information
call 1-888-999-6007 or visit www.cherokeeheritage.org.
The Five Civilized Tribes Museum in Muskogee preserves the
art, history and cultures of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and
Seminole Tribes. In October 2004, the museum presented its 31st Competitive
Art Show, recognizing Master Artists. A dozen artists exhibited more than
30 pieces in the show. They represented a wide range of media and styles,
each conveying their own interpretation of their tribal heritage.
Johnny Tiger, Jr. won the Indian Heritage Award. Troy Anderson,
Enoch Kelly Haney, Gary Montgomery and Virginia Stroud won Spirit of Oklahoma
awards. The Art Committee Award went to Bert Seabourn.
What is a Native American artist? Such a determination can
Beth Seim, executive director of the museum, said, Because
some of our Master Artists ancestors didnt sign the Dawes
Rolls (which authenticated their tribal origins), they cannot prove their
Seim added that the show participants were to be considered
Master Artists of the Five Civilized Tribes Museum. The tribe indicated
on their work is the tribe they indicate is those of their ancestors,
which in some cases cannot be proved due to circumstances beyond their
She said the important thing is the sharing of their heritage.
What a magnificent honor it is, for each of us, to be able to relive
the stories that each piece of work depicts.
During 2005, the Five Civilized Tribes Museum will have
several events for anyone wishing to learn more about Native American
art and artists.
Art Under the Oaks, a competitive show that will be held
April 2-30, is an important part of Muskogees Azalea Festival tradition.
The Museums April Indian Art Market, featuring arts and crafts,
will be held April 2-3 on the Museum lawn. The rain-or-shine event features
refreshments and food, along with dancing, singing and other activities.
A series of Growing the Arts programs featuring
the five tribes kicks off May 9-14 with the Chickasaw Tribe. Members will
demonstrate their tribes arts and crafts tradition. Many items will
be available for sale. The programs continue with Celebrating Seminole
Traditions, May 23-28; Celebrating Choctaw Traditions,
June 6-11; Celebrating Muscogee (Creek) Traditions, Sept.
5-10, and Celebrating Cherokee Traditions, Sept. 9-24.
A Competitive Art Show will be held June 25 through July
31. The event is kicked off with a Native American Symposium on June 25.
The 2005 Masters Competitive Art Show will be held Oct. 1-31.
Two Native American markets each year give the public access
to tribal arts and crafts. This years spring Indian Market, set
for April 2-3, will be held under tents on the museum lawn, rain or shine.
In addition to the unique arts and crafts, there will also be dancing,
singing and other activities. The Native Holiday Market, set for Nov.
25-27, will include prints, note cards, basketry, jewelry, woven items,
flutes and other Native American arts and crafts.
The annual Invitational Art Show will be held in November
and December, featuring a silent auction and other events.
The Five Civilized Tribes Museum is located at Agency Hill,
Honor HeightsDrive, in Muskogee, OK. It is open year-round except for
Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day. For more information
call 918-683-1701 or visit www.fivetribes.org.
Discover Mid-America founder and Senior Contributing Editor Ken Weyand files regular reports on notable Midwest destinations. He can be reached at email@example.com.
> Discover Mid-America Archive Past cover stories