Phillip Karshis/K photo
Roxanne Swentzell - “Storyteller/That Way”, bronze, 2014.

Honoring Native Women Every Day at the Museum of Indian Art and Culture

Alex Jacobs

Native women artists have been featured every month and every day at the Museum of Indian Art and Culture in Santa Fe for the last two years. Three creative Native women were honored during National Women’s History Month as Living Treasures, who contributed to the arts, culture and community of Santa Fe. The legacies of Santa Clara artist Margarete Bagshaw, Comanche master craftsperson Josephine Myers-Wapp, and Kiowa/Comanche arts educator Jeri Ah-be-hill, all recently deceased, have had a profound impact in the areas of Native American painting, textile and clothing design, as well as Native arts marketing.

In November of 2014, MIAC opened an outdoor exhibit of monumental sculpture by Native Women Artists, Courage + Compassion. They have extended it to May 2016 so that it can be viewed during the annual Native Treasures Indian Arts Festival, which is the major fund-raiser for MIAC and the Museum of New Mexico Foundation. 

We take a look at the artworks of these Native American artists and highlight their backgrounds, and also honor the memory of the pioneering Native American woman artists. 

Josephine Myers-Wapp

Josephine Myers-Wapp (1912-2014). Wapp was born in Apache, Oklahoma, where she learned Comanche ways from her grandmother, Tissy-Chauer-Ne. She studied at St. Patrick's Mission in Anadarko, Oklahoma as well as Haskell University in Lawrence, Kansas. Josephine also studied fiber arts and education at the Santa Fe Indian School and was later recruited by Allan Houser and Lloyd New in 1962 to become one of the first instructors at the newly established Institute of American Indian Arts where she taught traditional techniques, including textiles, fashion design, beadwork, and native dance. She was a beloved figure and inspirational instructor who devoted her life to the revitalization of indigenous cultures. Her award-winning work has been exhibited throughout the United States and around the world.

Jeri Ah be-hill

Jeri Ah-be-hill (1934-2015). Ah-be-hill was born in Apache, Oklahoma, and attended Riverside Indian School, Anadarko, Oklahoma, where her lifelong passion for indigenous traditional clothing began. Around 1964, Jeri and her husband Richard Greeves opened the Fort Washakie Trading Company on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. In 1988, she moved to Santa Fe, NM, with her two daughters, Keri Ataumbi and Teri Greeves, who are now widely acclaimed Native artists. Jeri worked and volunteered for many important Native cultural organizations in Santa Fe, and her presence gracefully guided the Traditional Native American Clothing Contest, the Santa Fe Indian Market’s most popular event for 17 years.

Margarete Bagshaw

Margarete Bagshaw (1964-2015). The daughter of artist Helen Harden and granddaughter of Santa Clara Pueblo artist Pablita Velarde, Margarete Bagshaw was a powerful artist in her own right.  Bagshaw's dynamic color palette and complex compositions is instantly recognizable and pays tribute to her mother and grandmother. Bagshaw's achievements included opening a Santa Fe gallery and a museum dedicated to Native American women artists, writing a memoir, and the 2012 exhibit at MIAC Margarete Bagshaw: Breaking the Rules.

Retha Walden Gambaro, of Creek, Cherokee and English heritage, did not start her art career until late in life but was recognized as a master artist for her work in stone, wood and bronze. She also started the Amerindian Foundation, which pushed for the creation of the National Museum of the American Indian in the 1980’s.

Retha Walden Gambaro - “Courage,” bronze, 1988. Photo Courtesy of Museum of Indian Art and Culture.

Estella Loretto was born at Jemez Pueblo and taught by the women of her family the traditional pottery techniques. She attended the Institute of American Indian Arts and received a degree from Ft. Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. Ms. Loretto travelled the world, studying in Japan, Nepal, Italy and the South Pacific. She studied as an apprentice under Allan Houser, learning how to work, design and fabricate monumental sculpture, and has won several monumental sculpture commissions.

Estella Loretto - “Morning Prayer," bronze, 2000. Photo Courtesy of Museum of Indian Art and Culture.


Tammy Garcia was born into the Tafoya family of Santa Clara Pueblo potters. She is internationally known for her traditional pottery, ceramic vessels, and bronze sculptures. Her newest work is in glass, as she has recently collaborated with renowned glass artist Preston Singletary. Ms. Garcia has won numerous awards at various Indian Art Markets, has been featured at National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC and in the top galleries of Santa Fe.

Tammy Garcia - “Sisters," bronze, 2008. Photo Courtesy of Blue Rain Gallery.

Kim Seyesnem Obrutz was born to a Hopi mother in Arizona and watched her grandfather carve Katsina dolls. She eventually became an art student at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff where she learned bronze casting. She has been working in bronze for over 20 years and is known for her Hopi corn-maidens. Kim began working her art full time once her children were grown, and has served on The Board of Directors for the Santa Fe Indian Market.

Kim Seyesnem Obrutz - “Greeting the Sun," bronze, 2000. Photo by Willie Peterson.

Kathy Whitman-Elk Woman was born in Bismarck, North Dakota as a member of the Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara Tribe of the Fort Berthold Reservation. She earned her name, Elk Woman, at a tribal Sundance ceremony when she was 25. Kathy Whitman-Elk Woman learned painting, jewelry and fashions, but became known as a multi-media sculptor working in stone, metal and recycled mixed-media. She enjoys teaching her recycling aesthetic to young students.

Kathy Whitman-Elk Woman - “Dancing to the Heartbeat of my Ancestors," mixed media, 2014. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Roxanne Swentzell was born in New Mexico, into the Naranjo family of potters and sculptors from Santa Clara Pueblo. She attended the Institute of American Indian Arts and the Portland Museum Art School. Her mother Rina Swentzell was an artist, architect and scholar, her father a philosophy teacher at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, and she apprenticed under her uncle, the famous sculptor Michael Naranjo. She is involved in community projects as the founder of the Flowering Tree Permaculture Institute.

Roxanne Swentzell - “Storyteller/That Way," bronze, 2014. Photo by Phillip Karshis/K photo.Roxanne Swentzell - “Storyteller/That Way," bronze, 2014. Photo by Phillip Karshis/K photo.Roxanne Swentzell - “Child," bronze, 2001. Photo by Phillip Karshis/K photo.

Rose Bean Simpson is Roxanne’s daughter and studied at the University of New Mexico and received a BFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts. She completed her Masters of Fine Art at the Rhode Island School of Design and is a multi-disciplined artist, working in metal, wood and clay. Rose Simpson also draws, produces comic-book and spray paint art, writes poetry, and makes music and designs fashions. She recently had a major show, “SOVEREIGN: Independent Voices,” at the Denver Art Museum. Rose and Roxanne collaborated on a ceramic and mixed-media piece for the exhibit titled, “Grace Adorned.” This piece represents their combined vision of Tonantzin, the Aztec female mother God, and Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, as “Our Lady of Guadalupe.” This merger of symbols allowed the Native tribes to consent to be converted into the Catholic Faith.

Rose Simpson and Roxanne Swentzell - “Grace Adorned," ceramic, mixed media, 2014. Photo by Phillip Karshis/K photo.

The Guest Curator for “Courage + Compassion” was Dr. Letitia Chambers, former CEO of the Heard Museum, former Ambassador to the United Nations General Assembly, she is a collector of Native art and resides in Santa Fe.

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