Gifts of the Spirit: Works by 19th Century and Contemporary Native American Artists (1996)
Ink and colored pencil on paper.
The art and beadwork that has been created by American Indian artists is an important part of their cultural heritage. Beadwork in particular has been described as a family undertaking that was performed when women gathered. As they worked in a communal setting, they thoughtfully wove stories into their designs, which told of what it meant to be a Native American. From the earliest times, Native cultural work has had a spiritual quality about it that is akin to fine art. On the surface, the old pieces were the canvas upon which a Native artist displayed their technical skills and artistic vision. But below the surface, the power inherent in a beautiful object was a central feature of life. Festive dress was a language through which an artist expressed their deepest beliefs about the universe; it was a form of artistic, cultural, and spiritual expression. Imbedded within the designs are stories of a people told in symbols and motifs that spoke of a sacred relationship to the natural world.
Many of the Native artists represented in this book are the culture bearers of their respective Nations and those best suited to tell their story. They bring a sense of pride to their communities and serve as catalysts that stimulate community involvement in the arts and pride in the work that they, as well as their ancestors, have created. It’s a Native perspective that adds to our understanding of the material and how their creations affect them as artists and as a Nation. It’s important to know that contemporary Native artists are not reviving or reintroducing an ancient art form; rather they are part of the vital continuance of an unbroken tradition. Beadwork, in particular, is especially valued as a medium through which this living tradition is maintained.
For almost fifty years, Gerry Biron painted realistic portraits of American Indians; but after a bout with cancer in 2013, his work set about in a new direction. Now he’s searching for something, perhaps meaning in his life. He’s not sure what yet, but his current work is his path to finding it.