Acrylic on paper (detail)

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Portfolio: Paintings and Sculpture

Both of my parents died and were revived before I was born. My father overdosed on heroin at age fifteen, and my mother drowned when she was four. My mother used to tell me that her spirit flew above her body and she could see herself in her brown dress before anyone found her. She said she looked like a brown paper bag floating in the pond.

I grew up surrounded by chaos.

During the week my extended family would make crafts. On weekends we would pack up our conversion van and head to powwows where we would set up our craft table and put on our regalia to dance. We often traveled with my maternal grandfather. My grandfather was a member of the False Face Society and of the secretive Little Water Society, a medicine man, soothsayer, woodcarver, and the last traditional chief of our tribe. He would bring me to ceremonies, teach me to make things, and tell me stories about what it was like to grow up as a healer. When he was dying I got a rare chance to experience the ancient ceremonies that are performed only for people considered to be of great spiritual importance.

I left home at fifteen years old. I attended college, traveled, and landed in New Orleans. New ceremonies took place in my studio and in galleries. Instead of making ceremonial regalia and gustoweh headdresses, I used the same skills to make hats and costumes for drag queens and burlesque dancers.

When I was twenty-five years old, my mother had a massive brain hemorrhage that left her paralyzed from the neck down, and my father resumed his opiate addiction. The healers arrived from Canada to take care of my mother after one of them had a vision about her. She, too, became a Little Water member, like her father, the ceremony taking place right in her hospital room. This brought me back to my home and the ceremonies of my youth. Twelve years later, I lost my father two weeks before the birth of my first son. My mother died ten days after the birth of my second.

I have never known a ceremony that was designed for my personal brand of pain and grief. I have never discovered a ritual that accurately addressed my hope and joy. I have never found one religion, spiritual practice, or belief system that gave me comfort and made total sense to me. I feel this is true for so many people. I think so many of us are searching for something to help us, fix us, comfort us.

When I was a girl, I would braid cornhusks into long ropes that my mother would sew into gad jeesa, husk face masks, to be used in ceremony. Women in my family have done this for many generations. As we braid we pray, and our prayers and our powers are put into the braids so the masks, when completed, can come alive and heal.

I continue to make objects that heal. Working on them allows me to do something when there is nothing more reasonable to be done. The repetition in my work allows for the same meditative process that braiding does. In this way, the making of these layered objects and the drawing of repetitive images is healing for me. I see my finished works as cultural artifacts, remnants of ambiguous ceremonies and rituals.