- Hide menu

Holiday Gifts: Small Paintings

Winters Seven Horses

As I noted a few months ago in a post highlighting one of today’s featured pieces, there is now a whole art genre known as “small paintings” (or “small pictures,” when the medium used is something other than paint). As I also said then, we have (the last I knew, anyway) a gallery just north of town on the main highway devoted exclusively to such art.

It’s a genre that’s attractive for a couple of reasons: For people in smaller types of housing, such as apartments, particularly for those with a limited amount of wall space, it’s a good way to add character and personality to a room; and, of course, for those on a limited budget, it’s a way to possess original artwork without the high cost of a wall-sized canvas. When it comes to Native art, it winds up being a very effective medium for both artist and buyer.

We have a number of full-sized paintings and line drawings in inventory (not all of which are yet posted here on the Web site), but they are, naturally, fairly expensive. So, in keeping with the type of pieces we’ve been featuring on Mondays lately, small gifts at modest prices, I thought today would be a good day to look at the four we have that fit squarely within the “small paintings” genre. Each of today’s paintings falls within the $125-$225 price range — the higher price point slightly beyond the upper end of the price range of artwork featured in the Monday series, but not by much.

We begin with one that I wrote about briefly early on in the life of this blog, the one pictured above by Standing Rock Sioux artist Carl Winters, who is married to a woman from the Pueblo.

It’s one my favorites, simply because of its name: She Cost Me Seven Horses.

For someone as independent in my identity as a woman, that might seem unlikely, but the dominant culture’s interpretation of indigenous practices that might be called “dowries” or “bride prices” tend not to reflect the reality of the balance of power in such relationships with any real accuracy.

Traditional cultures often had — and have, today — sharply delineated gender roles, at least with regard to certain aspects of daily life. The existence of such roles, and the associations and powers attached thereto, are not by definition “sexist,” even as the dominant culture defines that label. They’re simply different. And in fact, in many Native societies, women actually had far greater equality of and diversity of opportunity than their counterparts of European ancestry.

In the same vein, gender roles have carried differing responsibilities, but not automatically loss of status. In cultures whose interactions were based largely upon concepts of trade rather than purchase, of seeking coexistence before pursuing colonialism or capitalism, exchanges today dismissed as “dowries” or “bride prices” were far less a transaction in which a woman was bought like a piece of property than complex geopolitical negotiations that often occurred with the woman’s free and informed consent. To outsiders, it perhaps seems as though two families (or two peoples) were purchasing “prosperity” or “peace” on the back of a woman’s body, but the dynamics were far less crude than were the corresponding transactional underpinnings of European marriages.

Here, it’s a manifestation of the bride’s power and status that she can, by her willingness to join another family or people, command a gift of seven horses for her own family. And knowing as I do the artist’s culture, I have no doubt that she made sure to exercise that power in a way that maximized its effect. After all, the artist comes from a culture in which it is the women who can relieve a chief of his status and power and the accompanying symbols.

And so, to me, the salient element of the piece is not the proud expression of the husband; it is the secret little smile, barely expressed but visible nonetheless, of the wife, satisfaction touching her face ever so slightly as the seven horses gallop across the background to their new home with her family.

But back to the little painting itself. Vibrantly colored, with great attention to historical and cultural details, it’s already matted and framed. From its description in the Other Artists: Wall Art Gallery:

Carl Winters (Standing Rock) specializes in imagery from his Lakota reservation, particularly the horse motif that represents such an integral part of his people’s culture. Here, with acrylics and canvas, he evokes an older time, when weddings were also business deals and geopolitical strategies. Bride and groom wear their finest traditional dress before a border of “quillwork” symbols. The “bride price” is shown galloping in the background. Including the metal matting and frame, it is 9.75″ wide by 7″ high (dimensions approximate).

Acrylic; canvas, matting; metal frame
$145 + shipping, handling, and insurance


Rain Leaf Rabbit Hunt

We’ve featured paintings by Taos Pueblo artist Frank Rain Leaf here before, as well. Frank and Wings grew up together, childhood “brothers” in art and spirit alike. Their artistic paths diverged in adulthood, but both remained true to their respective callings.

Some of you have already seen this image, and the one that follows, on some of the cards that we enclose with purchases that must be shipped. Frank regularly creates a selection of greeting card prints of some of his more iconic work, and we’re fortunate to have a number of the originals in our inventory (we’ve had many more over the years, too, that have since sold).

Frank’s specialty is capturing archetypal traditional images in acrylic and committing them to canvas. His work provides a series of snapshots of ordinary Pueblo life from a traditional perspective that outsiders don’t see. Not of anything forbidden, but simply of aspects of life that generally are simply not accessible to the public: for example, the rabbit hunt depicted above, or the herd of buffalo shown below.

We looked at the rabbit hunt here a few months ago. It’s both rite of passage and regular practice, an old tradition kept alive year in and year out.

From its description:

Traditionally-dressed tribal members on horseback participate in a rabbit hunt in the shadow of the mountain. Summer thunderheads tower above in the turquoise sky, the warm red earth beneath the horses’ hooves dotted with stones and silvery sage. Unframed; 8-5/8″ wide by 6″ high (dimensions approximate).

Acrylic on canvas stretched over wood
$225 + shipping, handling, and insurance




Rain Leaf Winter Buffalo

Although Frank’s work often shows the people going about their lives, occasionally he paints a piece that focuses on our four-legged or wingéd relatives. Such is the case with the little painting above, of our buffalo brethren coming over the horizon on a snowy winter’s eve, the path guided by moon and hawk alike.

Of all the the works by him that we’ve ever had, this one is far and away my favorite.

I’ve written here before about what the buffalo mean to me. Placed, as rank has done here, against the backdrop of a season where I feel most at home, it’s a deceptively simple, incredibly powerful image. I wrote about it at some length a few months ago:

His choice of colors, few though they are, work in  concert to tell the story. The turquoise is, of course, ubiquitous in Pueblo art, imagery, and daily life; it appears in the jewelry that is part of traditional dress and even on the door- and windowsills of the old village homes, reflecting the sheltering blue of the sky above.It’s a desert shade that defies categorization: People who analyze colors put shades of blue into the “cool” category, but I don’t buy it; some of the hottest flames burn pure blue. So it is with our blues here; skies that reflect off the winter ice and snow, turning them a frigid hue, and the warm, inviting turquoise of the summer skies. Coupled with the lilac shade common to our skies at dawn and dusk, the gradient is both stark and gentle, and it works.  The moonlight, silvery-white at first glance but more detailed on closer examination, lights the buffalo’s trail and highlights the world beneath their hooves: a horizon gently curved like the earth itself, the round hoop of moon a microcosmic torch reflecting sun’s glow and earth’s form.

The buffalo . . . well, I’ve written about buffalo before. This is their season, powerful beings with powerful spirits, able to withstand the rapid weather changes of autumn and the privations and vicissitudes of winter. The sight of the herd thundering over the hill . . . it’s an image that stirs memory: one I’ve actually seen, and one I’ve only felt at the soul-deep level of ancestral awareness. And while the skies light their progress, so, too, does their fellow animal spirit guard their journey — the red-tailed hawk, a common motif in Frank’s art, traveling with them as dusk descends.

. . .

It’s the winter buffalo, making their journey home.

From the little work’s description:

A herd of buffalo approaches over a snowy horizon in this small painting by Frank Rain Leaf (Taos Pueblo). A full moon rises in the frigid winter sky, reflecting off the icy ground beneath their hooves, while a single red-tailed hawk keeps watch over their path. Unframed; 9-7/8″ high by 7-7/8″ wide (dimensions approximate).

Acrylic on canvas stretched over wood
$225 + shipping, handling, and insurance




Aragon Crow Mother

Finally, we come to a small painting of a slightly different sort: an image carved into a beveled wooden plaque, then hand-painted in traditional patterns with, at least in part, natural paints. It’s by Josh Aragon (Hopi/Laguna), an artisan who specializes in carving katsinam (kachinas) in the traditional Hopi way. By far the greatest part of his work is done in such figurative pieces, but occasionally, he’ll create something unique like this little painting.

It’s of Crow Mother, one of the powerful and influential female spirit beings of Hopi. In the past, we have had a couple of Josh’s Crow Mother katsinam in inventory, but they tend to sell out relatively rapidly. She’s a uniquely beautiful being, wrapped in a blanket adorned in traditional symbols, and wearing a case mask with “wings” of crow feathers attached to either side. She’s called “Mother” for a reason: She has a maternal relationship of sorts to many of the other katsinam, and to the people themselves.

Hand-carved traditional katsinam of the kind Josh creates tend to be quite expensive, often putting the imagery out of reach for many people. Here, it’s an opportunity to acquire an image of Crow Mother at a much more accessible cost. From its description:

Josh Aragon (Hopi/Laguna) is best known for his katsinam, figures carved in the traditional fashion out of a single piece of cottonwood root. Sometimes he puts his carving skills to work in other media, creating carved paintings on wood instead of canvas. In this one, Crow Mother stands within her traditional case mask, wrapped in a blanket accented with ancient symbols. The paints used include natural dyes; the piece stands 7.25″ high by 6.25″ across (dimensions approximate).

Wood; paint
$125 + shipping, handling, and insurance



It’s traditional themes writ small in this abbreviated collection, one that crosses four tribal cultures and yet displays their unifying elements. Each has its own unique identity, but tells its own part of the greater story of our peoples: each one more braid in the weave of the sacred hoop of our peoples’ collective existence.

~ Aji

All content, including photos and text, are copyright Wings and Aji, 2015; all rights reserved. Nothing herein may used or reproduced in any form without the express written permission of the owners.

Comments are closed.

error: All content copyright Wings & Aji; all rights reserved. Copying or any other use prohibited without the express written consent of the owners.