PORTLAND, Ore. – A check for $850 was rendered, and a red “sold” sticker was affixed to the placard on the wall beside the portrait of Chief Rain in the Face.
Artist Alix Mosieur, Nez Perce and Blackfeet, and purchaser Larry Sargent stood before the framed canvas in Bonnie Kahn’s Wild West Art Gallery. The red earth glow surrounding Mosieur’s rendition of the famous Hunkpapa Lakota chief captured the spirit of the warrior and his era. The turn of the chief’s head and the soft countenance around his eyes and lips suggest wisdom.
In many ways, her Rain in the Face canvas is a witness to Mosieur’s life as an artist. She knew early in life that she was destined to draw and paint, and over the years has gone the distance. The same fine lines and soft hues that appear in her work shade her voice.
“I guess I was lucky,” said Mosieur, a turquoise western shirt setting off her long, dark hair. “Right out of high school I married my husband, Bruce, and we started the Red Horse Art Company. He’s retired now, but he worked while we raised our son, so I’ve been able to paint and take classes all that time since 1967. I guess it shows what you can do if you have 40 years to kill and someone in the family has a real job.” Mosieur chuckled. “My husband has been my enabler. He does all the finish work and rawhide lashing on my gourd and wood pieces – uses several coats of varnish and light sandings and waxing to bring out the sheen.
“Over the years we have done hundreds and hundreds of craft shows, but I still remember the day I sold something for $200. I thought the world had opened up!”
Mosieur’s first real break came when a woman she met during a University of Oregon life drawing class said to her, “‘Why don’t you go over [to] the House of Myrtlewood?’ I did, and my life was completely changed. At first they had me do some really corny things for the tourists, since it’s on the Oregon coast, but eventually they found out I liked to draw Indians and horses; I’ve been able to pretty much do what I want since then. They’ve been very, very good to me, and I still do pieces for them.”
From the Oregon coast, Mosieur worked her way into art galleries around the West. “It was really hard. I remember back in Santa Fe – I walked into this ritzy place and had all my drawings in a paper bag. There were all these snotty women dressed to the nines in there, and it was just horrible.”
But when a person has a dream, there’s no holding them back. “You’re not really supposed to take your work in like that, unannounced. But if you’re feeling your power one day, and you have all your stuff and you walk in and you’re dignified and you’re graceful, it works.” Mosieur’s eyes shone with the memory. “That doesn’t happen every time, though. So it’s sort of a crapshoot.”
Crapshoot or not, once the ball gets rolling things can take on a life of their own. “As the years went by – although it spiraled very, very slowly at first – there was finally a domino effect. I’d tell them that I’m in these various galleries, and people started getting to know my name.” Mosieur also developed a following on the Oregon coast, where people have returned year after year to collect her wood pieces.
She draws in pen and ink, and shades with colored pencil and acrylic on a variety of media. Her wood wall plaques and tables are created from maple, madrone, redwood, ash, cedar and myrtle wood from a small sawmill in Oregon that specializes in fine woods for things like musical instruments. Mosieur also works on gourds ranging from six inches to two and one-half feet in diameter that she cuts to fashion baskets and bowls. “I like functional art. So I get the small gourds from a neighbor’s garden, and the big zucca gourds from Jack Nelson.”
Nelson, a direct descendant of Chief Joseph, won’t take money for his prized gourds. Mosieur, of course, has gifted the Nelson family with pieces of her artwork in return for his kindness. It’s all part of keeping the circle of wisdom turning and the flame of art alive.