OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - Joan Hill could have spent her life teaching school and quietly painting in her spare time.
But instead, the Creek woman followed her dream and became perhaps the most recognized female American Indian artist in the United States. Hill has more 260 major awards for her artwork and has studied in Italy as well as the United States. Her work has been featured in eight film documentaries and her biography appeared in The World of Who's Who of Women, Who's Who in American Art and Who's Who of American Women.
Hill graduated from Northeastern State College in Tahlequah with a bachelor of arts degree in education. She taught art in the Tulsa school district for four years before retiring to pursue a career as a full-time artist. Persistence and talent paid off for the Muskogee native and she is considered one of the most influential female Indian artists in the country.
Hill, whose Indian name is Chea-se-quah (Redbird), lives on her great-grandmother's allotment near Muskogee, left to her by her parents. I have a pre-historic Indian mound that has never been excavated. It is dated to 1200 AD, and it is also the site of a Confederate fort, she said.
I always explain mother's grandfather fought for the Confederacy and my father's grandfather fought for the Union. They fought each other at the Battle of Honey Springs, but their grandchildren married each other.
Hill's home is an island of wildlife and serenity. Wild turkey, bobcats and deer share the home area, even though it is within the city limits. When you are there it is like you are alone in the world, Hill said.
The Honored One at the Red Earth 2000 festival took time to reflect about her career and her work and said she painted mostly legends, adding, I've been turning more to history, historical things lately.
Hill has been offered teaching positions at major universities throughout the country, but turned down the offers. If I was looking for a job, I couldn't find one ... ! Hill said with a laugh. But I want to paint. Even though I enjoy teaching, it pulls me away from my work.
After working as a professional artist for 40 years, Hill takes her fame in stride. Fame is a relative thing, she said recently ... my great-grandmother was a second cousin to Will Rogers. No matter where we went in the world, people knew him - Russia, Tahiti, everywhere. Fame as it was relative to him was very well spread.
Hill said she loves Oklahoma. She loves the rest of the world, too, but not like she loves Oklahoma and that is why she has made her home there.
Her advice to aspiring artists?
Enter anything you can. If you get rejected in one place, send your work on to the next show. Follow your dreams.