By Jack McNeel -- Today correspondent
SPOKANE, Wash. - Tinman Gallery recently held an artists' reception for the Native American Group Show April 6, featuring ''three giants of contemporary Native American painting and printmaking.''
Gallery owner Susan Bradley commented, ''This show gathers together a great combination of artists using contemporary art techniques to tell traditional stories.''
The artists are Neil ''Tall Eagle'' Parsons, Blackfeet, now living near Blaine, Wash.; Ramon Murillo, Shoshone/Bannack; and Terrance Guardipee, Blackfeet, of Issaquah, Wash. The work of each varies from the others, thus providing visitors the opportunity to view three very different styles of highly professional Native art.
Parsons was the senior member of the three. He explained the name Tall Eagle was given him by his grandmother. Parsons was one of the original teachers at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M., along with such noted artists as Fritz Scholder, Allan Houser and Charles Loloma.
''If I had stayed there, I probably would have been a millionaire,'' he laughed. He chose instead a teaching career that took him around the country, the final position being at Long Island University in New York.
His teaching approach was to offer students traditional Native art, teaching it as a contemporary or sophisticated kind of art because it's usually not thought of in that way, and compared it with classical European art of the early 1900s. ''It's been my goal to bridge between those two art forms,'' he commented. His paintings on display exhibited some of those common unities with bold colors and somewhat impressionistic images of Indian dresses.
Murillo was formally trained at Idaho State University and the University of Oregon, and has been showing primarily at Native markets throughout the West. He exhibited at the Indian Market in Santa Fe last year for the first time and was highlighted by a local newspaper as one of six up-and-coming, brave new artists to watch. He received a postgraduate degree in nontoxic printmaking from Grand Prairie Regional College in Canada and had a number of prints on display at Tinman Gallery.
''I'm producing etchings and within them are photo collages and social commentary. I take old, past, traditional ways of life and the new contemporary life, and put those together into one composition.'' One of the subjects displayed in this manner involved the Lewis and Clark Expedition and Native life. Another portrayed the effect of dam construction on salmon runs and their impact on Native people. He also makes and paints drums.
''I learned the traditional way to make drums from a Paiute elder in the 1980s. Everything is very authentic. Until about 25 years ago, people connected to singing and dancing had the privilege to make drums. I do a lot of ceremonies and singing, so I became a drum maker. I was also an oil painter, so I started painting on drums, too.''
Guardipee trained at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe like so many top Native artists. His first international show was in 1999 - 2000 at the Museum of Natural History in Hanover, Germany. It featured some of the icons of Native art plus the up-and-coming artists, and that's where Guardipee ranked. After that, his art career really took off and he got into bigger markets like the Smithsonian, the Heard Museum, the C.M. Russell Museum and the Museum of the American Indian in Los Angeles, plus countless other collections and galleries.
Ledger art was primarily featured at the Tinman Gallery show. ''My pieces are all based on the Blackfeet culture,'' Guardipee explained. ''All tepee designs, all mountain designs are based on that culture.'' He also uses maps of Montana and fuses ledger art to them to create larger versions of a ledger, but ''also to show where I'm from.''
Guardipee also displayed some large canvases done with acrylics. A major piece depicted a Blackfeet medicine woman with a black horse robe.
Guardipee's wife, Catherine Blackhorse, Seminole, is very successful and widely recognized, with many first-place awards for her embroidered shirts and other clothing at such prestigious shows as the Santa Fe Indian Market and The Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis. She exhibited some of her clothing items as well during the Tinman reception.