Artist Leroy “Henahayo” Osceola stood with his wife and his mother in the main gallery at the Marco Island Center for the Arts on Tuesday evening, after most of the guests had departed. When a question was posed to the mother, she looked to her son, who translated into the Seminole language.
It was a striking illustration of how, despite living in, and fighting over, the same territory for hundreds of years, the Native American culture is still separate from the mainstream culture in Florida. Leroy Osceola also brought his wife, Cassandra, and three children, his son Mad Bear Osceola and two daughters, Saundra and Migathe Osceola to the opening of a show by him and other Native American artists.
The family wore traditional native garb, and Leroy explained what some of the pictograms on his patchwork signified. His artwork was similarly striking, bold and contemporary while clearly showing his Miccosukee heritage.
One piece that demanded attention was “Seminole Brand,” an acrylic showing the skull and horns of a longhorn with feathers dangling, on a one-point perspective in red and yellow. It seemed to leap off the canvas. Equally bold was the price indicated on the card next to the painting – $16,000.
When Leroy Osceola was handed the microphone by Arts Center executive director Lynn Holley, he told the audience “this is the first time I showed my pictures in public,” by which he appeared to mean to the larger public outside of his tribal venues. He is in the process of opening a gallery of his own.
Some of his work had overt political overtones, such as the acrylic “America – See It Like a Native,” which depicted a Native American chained to the American flag, whose stripes became prison bars. Another, entitled “I Will Not Run,” showed an Indian warrior. If you looked close, reflected in his eyes you saw troopers with bayonets and a U.S. flag. Leroy Osceola also creates woodcarvings, drawings and hand-forged coin jewelry.
In addition to paintings, artwork exhibited by the six artists showing their work includes photography, colored pencil drawings, pottery or clay sculpture, beadwork, and a carved model of a dugout canoe.
When Jimmy Osceola took the mic, he said his name and followed it up with “Panther clan Seminole,” although the various interrelationships of the different Native American groups the artists represented were beyond most of the audience. One of his canvases, “Big Shirt,” is a brightly colored rendition of a man, apparently dancing. The works show definite artistic merit in Western terms, and still have an exotic feeling.
Tara O’Neill, the Goodland-based artist who was responsible for assembling the show and bringing it to the Arts Center, named “Big Shirt” as a favorite, but clearly respected all the artwork and the mastery of media and cultures it represents.
“I love the traditional motifs with the modern styles,” said O’Neill. “It took a full year to put the show together. Last May I was invited to be a judge at the Seminole Spring Festival at the Big Cypress Reservation by Hollywood,” which seemed like a test, she said.
“The Everglades is a mystery, and these artists help us uncover some of the mystery,” said Holley. “This is an important show.” As always, hors d’oeuvres, donated for Tuesday’s event by the Islander Restaurant, and beer and wine were supplied with no charge, just a jar for donations.
The show, entitled “Florida’s Native Americans: Artists of the Everglades,” will be up through March 29, when the space will be given over to four student shows. The Arts Center’s headquarters is located at 1010 Winterberry Drive. For more information on the Marco Island Center for the Arts, call (239) 394-4221, or go to www.marcoislandart.org.