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  • Writer's pictureCARAVAN Arts

Artist Spotlight: Telling our Women’s Stories

Updated: May 13

An Interview with Eastern Shoshone artist Joanne Brings Thunder.


Paul G. Chandler, CARAVAN's Founding President, had the opportunity to interview Eastern Shoshone contemporary artist Joanne Brings Thunder, who is a participating artist in our GROUNDED exhibition.


"The earth is sacred, part of a ‘web of creation.’”

        - Joanne Brings Thunder



Joanne Brings Thunder is an enrolled member of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe on the Wind River Indian Reservation of Wyoming. She in a multi-faceted artist and award-winning architect who was introduced to Northern Plains Indian Art at age five. As Joanne’s creativity and talent were being revealed in inventive drawings and beadwork, her grandmother, renowned Shoshone regalia maker, Eva McAdams (1996 NEA National Heritage Fellow), encouraged the emerging artist to master her drawings, beadwork and creativity.

 

Joanne’s love for art, and all it has to offer, has grown and advanced with her throughout the years, bringing her artistic style and creativity to where it is today. This Shoshone artist has risen to painting on canvas, ledger paper, parfleche and hides. She has skillfully developed her traditional and contemporary styles of American Indian art and crafted jewelry, textiles, fashion and home décor. Each piece is created intentionally with thoughtful patience, authenticity and pride, integrating ancestral legend, symbolism and history.  Joanne currently lives and works on the Ft. Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota. For more information, see: jbringsthunder.com

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When did you start creating art and know it would become your life’s calling?


My earliest memory of creating art (beadwork) was with my grandmother at a very young age. I made my first pair of moccasins when I was 6 years old. She by far has been my biggest influence and supporter.


What formative influences have shaped your life as an artist? 


My art is a direct result of the influence of my Shoshone culture and my family – the two integral facets of who I am and how I express myself. My family and culture are at my core and who I am. I’m blessed to know who I am and where I come from.


Deer Woman, Acrylic paint, ink, colored pencil on antique ledger paper, 11” x 17”


Some of your work uniquely blends the contemporary with what is referred to traditionally as Ledger Art. Can you share with us more specifically about your artwork, including distinct elements in the composition in your work? 


My ledger art is a contemporary story about women and our strength and resilience as indigenous women. We are the backbone of our nations; we are the life givers. Although most traditional ledger art is depicting our warriors, as a female ledger artist my primary focus is telling our stories from a woman’s perspective. We have our stories too and they need to be told. My greatest delight is when our young girls ask me who that is in my art, and I tell them that is “YOU.” The smile and confidence are all I need to keep creating. Regarding the distinct elements in the composition of my works, they are no doubt influenced by my technical training as an architect. I greatly admire the small details and balance of composition. I think my art reflects both.


Art serves many roles, what do you see as its greatest value? 


My ancestors saw art as a valuable tool to assist in storytelling. Our families’ patterns and colors are still used today in our regalia. Many people can tell which family you belong to by those colors and designs. Even today, it is a marker for identity within our tribe, clans, and family systems. 


Is there an overall theme that your work expresses, and if so, can you share that with us?


My overall theme would have to be telling our women’s stories and recognizing our traditional matriarchal roles within Shoshone culture.


What do you feel Native Americans can offer our world today in regard to our connection to the earth and being in harmony everything upon it?


I can’t speak for all Native Americans, but I can say that we have numerous gifts that allow many of us to live and represent our connection to the earth. An aspect that I think everyone, regardless of race, could benefit from, is that climate change is real and must be addressed. I guess that comes down to respect and facing our own authenticity, because soon the earth is going to correct all of humanity’s wrongdoing and unfortunately many of us will perish as a result.


Can you share with us why you are excited about participating in the GROUNDED exhibition?


I’m excited to be a part of the exhibition because it gives my art and my people a voice. A voice that comes directly from us and our perspective of life, while reminding the rest of the world that we are still here.


Can you share with us what projects you are currently working on?


I’m currently working on a ledger piece that honors our war bonnet and chokecherry dances.


Legacy Shoshone Rose, Acrylic paint, ink, colored pencil on antique ledger paper 11” x 17”


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