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we're still here by kay walkingstick Kay Walkingstick's painting "We're Still Here, 2004" includes dancing legs that represent joy and love. (Credit: "We're Still Here, 2004," charcoal, gouache, encaustic/paper, 25" x 50", © Kay Walkingstick 2009)

Stand Up, Be Proud

Artist Kay Walkingstick draws on her Cherokee heritage for her work

By Joseph O'Connor | null null , null

When she was 13, Kay Walkingstick won a Scholastic Art & Writing Award for one of her paintings. Today, 61 years later, the Queens-based artist has won many other awards (including one from the National Association of Women), her work is in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, and she is the first female Native American to be included in H.W. Janson's History of Art.

Walkingstick comes from a family of artists, including her brother and an uncle. Growing up, she says, she was constantly drawing. Her biggest influence has always been her Native American heritage.

Part Cherokee, part Ho-Chunk, Walkingstick said other kids in school used to make fun of her unusual name.

"My mother told me to ‘stand up straight, be proud, you're Cherokee,'" she says.

The Native American artist often thinks back on these words as she paints.

"It's always in the back of your head," she says of her heritage. "It will effect how you see things, your world view, like it or not."

Her view includes Native American oil paintings inspired by landscape and culture. Some of the designs she uses are also inspired by parfleche bags, which are rawhide bags that her ancestors decorated and used to collect food.

artist kay walkingstick with kid reporter joseph o'connor
Artist Kay Walkingstick with Kid Reporter Joseph O'Conner in Walkingstick's Queens studio. (Photo Courtesy Joseph O'Connor)

Although she lives and works in Queens, Walkingstick spends a lot of time in Colorado where her work is currently being shown at the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center. While there, preparing for the show, she took photographs of landscapes to use in her latest paintings.

Walkingstick mainly works in oils. Many of her paintings are diptychs, which means two paintings side by side.

Although she paints mountains, she says her landscapes are really paintings of herself.

"Art expresses one's personality," she says. "The way one paints on a canvas and even the subject matter is very telling."

Using Rembrandt as an example, she explains how the artist "was able to paint Jesus, not just as a man, but as a man who everyone wants to be around."

As she worked on her own paintings, she discovered that her landscapes were becoming a stand-in for her own being. When she realized this, she started to include figures in her art.

In the painting "We're Still Here, 2004," (above) she included dancing legs, to represent joy and love.

"The gold color represents the heavenly reality, the mysterious reality, and the joyousness of being," she says.

So, how does it feel to be a Native American female artist, the first to be listed alongside Rembrandt in the History of Art?

"I like my heritage, I like my funny name," she says. "I've had a beautiful life."

American Indian Heritage Month

For more Kid Reporter coverage of the annual celebration of America's native heritage, check out the American Indian Heritage Month Special Report.


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