The Story of a Successful Artist

The Native American Artist Harnessing ‘Old Indian Tricks’ for Our Times


For those of us who lived in the early 20th century, or who consider themselves of that era, it’s always fascinating to read the personal stories — real and invented — of “old Indian tricks,” as they were called. One of those stories was written about me in a small town newspaper, long after I had left my community.

My early 20s were a very difficult time for us. My family was struggling to make ends meet. The school I was attending began to disintegrate, a problem compounded by the fact that I was an outcast in my class because I had been in the “wrong” race.

I could see the writing on the wall, and so it was with no small measure of fortitude that I would stand in the cold before the board that had decided my fate, and read the sentence that would not only determine my future, it would affect the entire family for the rest of our lives.

The school director’s response was to make me an example of what I was, what I could be. When I asked why I was being made an example of, she replied that one day I would be an example of something else. As my parents took me home that day, I knew she was right of course.

I went to school when I was supposed to, came home after school to clean up the house from my last day. Then I went to work at the local store, where I would have to wash and wax the cars, clean up the floor and scrub the windows until I would often get yelled at for neglecting an inspection on a customer’s vehicle, and yet it was all I could do to keep my head above water. There was no money to pay for more schooling, no money to buy my first car. There was no money to pay for the summer camps the school was supposed to help me with, to pay for my college expenses.

In my mind I decided that at that point I would become a successful artist, and take one of those painting classes that would get my name in the paper and then one day the world would know me as the artist for the automobile that I painted, and I’d have the money in the bank for college, the whole nine yards.

Even though I didn’t attend college, I never forgot that day

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