Native American Artist Shares Insight with OES

Native American artist Mark D. Shelton visited the third grade art class this week to share about his art. His intensely colorful collages, made from acrylic paint and exotic paper, portray images from Native American life. Although his images are modern contemporary, Shelton’s inspiration frequently comes from the classic photography of Edward S. Curtis, who photographed indigenous peoples all over the United States in the early 1900s.

Born and raised in Illinois, Shelton says he can’t remember a time when he wasn’t creating artwork. He first came to know “Indians” through Hollywood movies. Though he identified with Indian ways (stereotypical as they were), he wasn’t aware he was of Native American descent until his father told him as an adolescent that his grandmother was of the Seneca tribe.

In 1984, Shelton moved to Oregon, where he began studying Native American peoples, as well as fine and graphic art. He moved to New York City to attend art school, and graduated with honors from the Pratt Institute in 1991. He then returned to Oregon to focus on a career as a painter of Native American subjects. Chief Cliff Snider (Gray Wolf) recommended, and the Chinook Tribe ceremonially bestowed, the title of Honorary Chinook Tribal Artist upon Mark in 2006.

Shelton has visited OES for a number of years, first invited by retired teacher Sue Jensen, and now by Lower School Visual Arts Teacher Margaret Synan-Russell. Shelton said that he always enjoys meeting with schoolchildren and talking about Chinook tribal history, and the processes and techniques he uses to create his art.

The third graders greatly appreciated Shelton's visit, and a couple of them shared about their experience:

  • “It was amazing to me to meet a Native American artist who is alive now and that Mark trusted us enough to show us his unfinished work.” - Marcel
  • “I learned more about the Chinook and that they are still around, and how they used to fish before the dams were built.” - Lawrence

Synan-Russell said, "Mark’s visit this year was especially meaningful because it’s at a time in our school when we’re talking about honoring marginalized people and showing up for them. It’s always been a part of my curriculum, but it stood out to me this year that Mark coming and telling us his stories gives the children the gift of being able to learn and listen about the Native American experience—an opportunity I’d love for the rest of the broader community outside my classroom to have.”

The third graders are creating their own paper and paint collages this week, following Shelton's style.