We give the Mountain pulpit to Nocona Burgess, Comanche, painter, teacher, and supporter of Native arts.
I could always draw well, ever since I was a child. And I knew some Native artists growing up—like Rance Hood and Doc Tate Nevaquaya. But becoming a professional artist never crossed my mind. I finished high school with a focus on drafting and mechanical drawing before attending architectural school at the University of Oklahoma. While at OU, I continued to draw and paint on my own. A few years later, I moved to Santa Fe. This was back in 1989.
I took some painting classes at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA). More than anything, the idea of being around Native kids from all around the country appealed to me. But the school opened my eyes to the possibility of a life as a contemporary Native artist. After graduating from the IAIA in 1991, I began working here in 2003. The IAIA was established in 1962. It's a place where many people from many tribes find their way in art. As of the Fall 2010 semester, 89 tribes were represented at the school. When those cultures meet, it turns into something special. Art is a voice with all societies, but there is so much misperception with Native American art. Before the IAIA, Native art consisted mostly of the traditional forms of pottery, weaving, and beading, along with the flat, two-dimensional Dorothy Dunn school of painting.
The IAIA lets us tell our story in a format and medium of our choosing. The school offers a foundry, digital media and film schools, creative writing, ceramics, metal sculpture, and photography, among other lines of study. We even have city kids that are into street art. But the historical arts haven't been lost either, IAIA artists are using traditional materials to make modern art like Jason Garcia's comic book style on clay, Melissa Cody's take on Navajo rug weaving, and Fritz Casuse's jewelry.
Class after class of IAIA graduates impacts the Native art world and Native communities in positive ways. IAIA students return to their communities to teach and create art, curate tribal museums, open galleries, and promote their fellow tribal artists to the world. By showing the value and diversity of living Native arts, the work of the IAIA just might convince future generations of Native kids with a talent for painting or sculpting that a life of art is within reach.
Please visit iaia.edu for more information. From the Spring 2011 issue. Subscribe today, get the magazine at the iTunes store, or find Mountain at Whole Foods, Barnes & Noble, Gander Mountain, and other natural foods and outdoor stores.