Night of Artists Mother’s Day

In May we celebrate the strong women in our lives who have nurtured us, imparted wisdom, and, through their actions, have shown us how to live in the world. For artist Billy Schenck, strong women have always been at the center of his orbit and in his artwork since the 1980s. His painting, Before the Storm, portrays a Navajo elder who is making her way down the slope of a hill supported by a walking stick. Her cattle dog and two steers from her herd are shown midground with the red mesas of the Arizona desert and high cumulous clouds, surrounding her head like a halo, in the background. In order to photograph the subject for his work, Schenck had to spend several hours driving across reservation land in order to locate her and her herd. Rather than frailty or stillness, Schenck gives us a picture of an active, strong, older working woman, who is comfortable navigating the rough Arizona terrain by herself. The rugged independence we often associate with men, is instead embodied in a grandmotherly figure, challenging stereotypes and encouraging us to imagine broader possibilities for our future in old age.

Similarly, Jeremy Winborg also portrays a Native woman navigating the landscape. I Got Your Back features a Plains Indian woman carrying her baby on her back with an imprint of the mountains in the distance. She stares off into the left of the canvas, clutching her blanket around her, while her child gazes at the viewer as he holds his cloth doll. Winborg paints her with a strong look of determination—her strength visible in her bearing, as she carries her son across the landscape, lovingly and tirelessly. This work brings to mind the story of Sacagewea who carried her son on her back through the Rocky Mountain landscape, while serving as a guide for famed expeditioners Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.