Nevaquaya Brothers 'Breaking Traditions' in New Exhibit Opening Saturday
APACHE, Oklahoma—It can be difficult for children to free themselves from the shadows of their parents, no matter what age. For Comanche brothers Tim Tate Nevaquaya and Calvert Nevaquaya, they sometimes find themselves within the large shadow cast by their father, the prolific painter and flute player Doc Tate Nevaquaya (1932-1996).
“The feedback from people I usually get is, ‘It’s a lot different from one of Dad’s works. It’s not traditional,’ ” said Calvert Nevaquaya, 39. “To me, that puts a smile on my face. That’s something I want to hear. I want to be different, different than a lot of artists, and try to come up with my own style.”
Calvert’s older brother, Tim Tate Nevaquaya, 45, has similarly spent many years working to develop his own artistic style apart from his father. Doc Tate Nevaquaya’s style is what art critics refer to as “Oklahoma flat style”—two-dimensional Native American art whose origins go back to the Kiowa Five artists, who began painting in the 1920’s and brought Native art into a contemporary era.
“It’s strongly expressive,” said Tim Tate about his paintings, which rely heavily on oil as a medium. “It’s not as academic as the traditionalists. It’s a style that doesn’t have to deal with historical accuracy, although it takes facets of the Native American culture and expresses it in a way that really conveys a very deep spiritual message to the viewer.”
The Nevaquaya brothers have a chance to show how their family tradition is taking a new direction with “Breaking Traditions,” a two-person show that opens 3-7 p.m. Saturday July 7 at the Southern Plains Indian Museum, 715 E. Central in Anadarko, Okla. and shows through August 18. The opening will feature both an art discussion by the brothers and a flute concert.
Indian Country Today Media Network had an opportunity to visit with the brothers at their home in Apache, Oklahoma. Although the brothers consider themselves self-taught, their first source of inspiration was their father. Tim Tate, being older, started observing his father when he was three years old, watching him come in from work, eat and visit with the family, and then begin either drawing or painting. Tim Tate would then try to emulate the projects on which his father was working. For Tim Tate, “consistency” is one of the primary lessons he learned from his father.
“If he wasn’t drawing, he was painting,” said Tim Tate. “The thing about Dad was he didn’t have to do a whole lot of research. He was living according to the Comanches. He had heard a lot of stories. Consistency was really prevalent with Dad.”
Tim Tate said he attributes his use of oils to his father’s suggestion, which helped him develop a style apart from his father’s.
“When Dad began to notice I was using colors that weren’t really normal with traditional Indian painting, I believe he probably recognized that if I used oils, I probably would better express it,” said Tim Tate. “He had advised me to do that. Now that I look back on it, he saw something that I wasn’t aware of. He didn’t really explain it to me. I believe that he knew I would catch onto this. He was right. It was really one of the best suggestions he had given to me—using oils instead of watercolor or acrylic.”
Calvert, being a younger brother, said he has no memory of his father being anything but a full-time artist. “I wanted to be what my father was, and I walked right into his footsteps,” he said.
When Calvert began painting, he said his work was more of an imitation of his father’s style.
“Growing up, I had always seen my father do artwork,” said Calvert. “I always knew that I had this ability to draw. At school, I would always do drawings on my worksheets that the teacher would hand us. I would give them back to her, unfinished, with the drawing on there.”
Calvert said that one of his most influential teachers at Boone-Apache High School was his art teacher, Bob Wade. Outside of high school and his father, Calvert’s training is now with his brother, Tim Tate, where he’s expanding his use of shading, color and three-dimensional viewpoints with his use of acrylic.
Together, the brothers are also finding ways to experiment with fluorescent colors within their art, giving new life to the paintings when displayed alongside ultraviolet light sources.
For inspiration, the brothers don’t have to travel far outside of their own tribal area of Southwest Oklahoma, where the Comanche share a homeland with the Kiowa, Apache and Fort Sill Apache. Tim Tate said that, for him, the horse culture of the Comanche is one of his primary subject matters.
“When [the Comanche] were introduced to the horse, whenever members of the tribe had possession of them, it signified wealth,” said Tim Tate. “It was a new wealth that they had. They were able to travel longer distances. On top of that, the beauty of the horse was very inspiring to the Comanche. It really made them more mobile, and I believe it helped them in a lot of ways we probably don’t understand today.”
Another of Tim Tate’s primary subjects is the Apache Mountain Spirit Dancer. The enrolled membership of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, whose tribal complex is located outside of the town of Apache, are the descendants of those Apache who were considered prisoners of war by the U.S. government from 1886-1914. The tribe sponsors an annual dance every September, where these dancers can be seen. The dancers are simultaneously known as “Fire Dancers” by many people in Oklahoma.
“The dance was really mysterious to me,” Tim Tate said about the Mountain Spirit Dancers. “I observed it as a child. I even used to imitate the Fire Dancers. I used to make a fire in my backyard, whenever I could get away with it. I used to dance around it just like them. As time went on, I started to paint them, draw them with Crayolas. Later on, when I started to develop in arts, I started to use them as one of my primary subjects.”
While Calvert draws upon his own Comanche upbringing like his brother, Calvert is also inspired by his own experiences in Native American Church meetings, of which Peyote is used in sacramental worship.
“I paint what’s going on in the Tipi, things I see for myself, and how our people took to this ceremony,” Calvert explained. “It influences me in my artwork. I do a lot of peyote paintings, things I see and things that fascinate me about it—the songs, the way they carry themselves inside the Tipi and how they run the ceremony.”
While Doc Tate is a primary influence in these brothers’ lives, the brothers said their mother, Charlotte, was equally a strong influence, as well as a source of strength for their father.
“I would always see Mom stand behind Dad, back him up at his shows and the things he’d done,” said Calvert. “She was always there by his side and helped him out. Even with us growing up, she was always taking care of us while Dad took care of business. To me, I would see my mom as a strong woman. Even for me, for her to be a part of my career as I was starting out, she would help me out and tell me how my dad went along and how she helped him out.”
Although the Nevaquaya brothers may artistically express themselves differently than their father, one theme that the sons and father share is a passion for the Comanche way of being. Whether it is as individuals or their occasional collaborations, Tim Tate and Calvert express the beauty that exists with the Numunu—how Comanche refer to themselves in their language—and see it in both their own work and their father’s.
“The thing I would like for [viewers] to see in our Comanche culture, through our art, is the beauty of our people—sometimes the spiritual side and the hardship—the good things our people had to offer,” said Calvert Nevaquaya. “Through a lot of my father’s art, people were amazed by the beauty and the culture and the things he had painted. He had love stories he painted. Our people had lovers in our tribe as well as warriors. A lot of the people outside the Numunu look at us as savages or wild Indians. Through our artwork, I hope they see the beauty and spiritual side.”