Portraits of the Pawnee

Haskell alumnus paints historical Indian figures

Nearly every image Rusty Diamond paints keeps a bit of his tribal heritage alive. He painstakingly researches his subjects, making sure every detail adheres to the traditions and history of the Pawnee.

Take "Fancy Eagle," a portrait of a Pawnee doctor who had the power to cure people by spraying water from his mouth onto their bodies. In the painting, Fancy Eagle's face is covered with earthen clay. A cluster of soft down feathers is secured on his head by a clump of clay. Two eagle feathers hang near the side of his head.

Diamond has never seen a photograph or drawing of Fancy Eagle � as far as he knows none exist. So his images reflect what is documented in history books, such as "Ceremonies of the Pawnee" by James R. Murie.

"By painting the past, I hope that people can learn more about their history, especially the younger people," said Diamond, who is from the Pawnee/Otoe tribe of Pawnee, Okla., and recently graduated with an associate's degree in liberal arts from Haskell Indian Nations University.

Diamond and Allen Knows Gun, who graduated in May with an associate's degree from Haskell, will show their paintings from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday in Tommaney Hall at the Haskell campus. A reception is from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Monday.

Diamond said his talent for drawing and painting surfaced when he was a small child when his parents noticed that he was fascinated with crayons and pencils. His father set up a teepee at an American Indian church and talked to the Creator about fostering his son's artistic talent.

"I took art classes in school, but I'm mostly self-taught," Diamond said. "When I started I drew mostly Native American stuff. In high school, I drew what were my self-interests. Now I specialize in anatomy and faces. I did more pencil (when I started out), and when I had that mastered I moved on to paint."

His brushes first dipped into acrylics, now they work mainly in oils.

"I paint mostly the Pawnee heritage. My mentor is a professional painter. His name is Charles W. Chapman. He also paints Pawnee heritage," Diamond said. "I study and read the history of the different ceremonies and doctors so I can get it right. I don't just paint anything."

For "Bear Chief" Diamond researched the history of Pawnee bear doctors, or those who specialize in the treatment wounds. The doctors cure injuries with the help of cedar, known as Mother Earth, and bear, known as Father.

"They dress up in a bear-skin robe; they hung the head over their right shoulder," he said, pointing to the image on his canvas. "Black streaks on the face represented the bear's tear ducts. Their body was covered with Oklahoma clay, which is greenish-yellowish."

Bear Chief died without passing on his knowledge, so the bear ceremony disappeared from 1900 to 1910, Diamond said. Later a woman named Yellow Corn Woman had a vision.

"She saw a man painted yellow from head to toe with a bear claw necklace and two black streaks down his face. He said bear and cedar has been waiting for the smoke, or the ceremony, for a long time."

The man told Yellow Corn Woman that one man remained who knew the ceremony. The man was found, and he was able to pass on the ceremony even though he was paralyzed.

"Charles Chapman said if I paint Pawnee (subjects) I must read and research because people will ask about it, and I will need to tell them what it means," Diamond said. "He said you can make a living but you won't become a millionaire unless you really know."

Diamond is beginning to see his painting pay off already. Sales of prints of his paintings have covered his bills the last couple of months.

He plans to focus on his art over the next couple of years and hopes to begin showing his work at American Indian markets and art shows.

"My goal is to be nationally recognized as a historical painter," he said.


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