35 Years at the C.N. Gorman Museum
Selections from the Permanent Collections
by Amber Bill
Carl Nelson Gorman, Kin-ya-onny-beyeh (Navajo)
Born on the Navajo Reservation, Carl Nelson Gorman (1907-1998) was a member of the Khinyá’ áni clan (the Towering House People). Gorman began his career with his service in the U.S. Marines during WWII as a member of the elite group of Navajo Code Talkers who translated military intelligence into Navajo codes that were never broken. After the war, Gorman studied art at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. To add to a long list of accomplishments, C.N. Gorman directed the Navajo Arts and Crafts Guild and was involved in and led a Navajo history project which conducted oral interviews with Navajo elders. After his time at Otis Art Institute, he became a technical illustrator for Douglass Aircraft, established his own silk-screen company and became an instructor in Native American Art at the University of California, Davis. Gorman’s work is displayed in national and international galleries and is known as an innovator in a variety of styles and media.
In 1969, UC Davis faculty member Jack Forbes invited Gorman to help develop the Native American Studies program. As faculty, Gorman created the Native American art studio workshop. To further his teaching, he established the museum to perpetuate Native art and to educate students of work by Native artists. Since 1973, the museum furthered his vision to continue exhibiting contemporary Native art. Upon his retirement from UC Davis, faculty, students, and community members honored his contribution to Native American Studies and Native American contemporary art by establishing the museum in his name. Gorman also taught Navajo language courses at D-Q University and gave numerous lectures n Navajo culture to local community groups.
R.C. Gorman (Navajo)
Rudolph Carl Gorman (1932-2005) was born, of the Tl’ āshchí clan, on the Navajo Reservation in 1932. His father, C.N. Gorman, was a highly regarded artist and teacher. Growing up in a traditional Navajo hogan and herding sheep, Gorman began drawing at the age of three. A student at Arizona State College (now Northern Arizona University), he studied literature and art, but left school to enlist in the Navy in 1951. Stationed on the Mariana Islands, Gorman attend English and journalism classes at Guam Territorial College, but never abandoned his passion for drawing. After his discharge, he used his talent as an illustrator for an article in School of Arts Magazine at Arizona State College. Later, he went on to enroll in art classes at Mexico City College and San Francisco State College. His dream of receiving a teaching degree was never realized; however, his perseverance as an artist was rewarded. In 1978, the College of Ganado awarded Gorman an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts. Like his father, R.C Gorman became a highly accomplished and regarded national Native artist of the Southwest. After opening a gallery in Tubac, Arizona, Gorman conducted numerous workshops and started to experiment with lithography, studying under Jose Sanchez in Mexico City.
R.C. Gorman captured national attention due to his archetypal portrayals of Navajo women in paintings, prints, ceramics and sculptures. He produced works using different media including acrylics, oils and oil pastels, silk screen, etching and lithographs. In many of his works, Gorman had his subjects engaging in simple activities, which became his focal point. Ultimately, the physical presence and spiritual life of the subject captivated his motivation as opposed to the contextual background. His images often depicted the face, hand and feet with intricate detail; in truth, watercolor wash full-bodied Indian women became his trademark.
Frank Day, Ly-Dam Lilly, Fading Morning Star, (Konkow Maidu)
Growing up in Berry Creek, California, Frank Day (1902-1976) learned the ways of his people from his father, Twoboe (Billy) and other Maidu elders. Twoboe was one of the last traditional leaders of the Bald Rock Konkow Maidu who passed on knowledge of Maidu history and mythology, language, song and traditions to his son. Most of this inherited knowledge came from a time before the encroachment of settlers to Maidu homelands at a time when Maidu songs and stories, history and technology and beliefs were securely passed down from generation to generation. Having received his education at Greenville Indian School in Plumas County and later at Bacone College in Muskogee, Day was widely known as an untrained Native artist. Day’s main concern was the disappearance of his tribe’s worldview due to the lack of documentation.
A gifted storyteller and teacher, Day translated the Maidu perception of the world into colorful narrative images. Painting over 200 canvases in the last two decades of his life, he integrated legend, oral tradition, and myth into authoritative compositions. His symbolic and imaginative paintings were created from memory rather than observation. While his paintings contained contemporary elegance and perceptive structure, the rich textile and raw poignant color invoked spiritual essence of cultural tradition. Day, an important historian and prolific California Native artist, used his knowledge to not only capture his heritage through expressions of Maidu history and tradition in his work, but he also inspired younger California Indian visual artists. Day’s legacy did not end with his death in 1976, but his self-expression continued to influence three contemporary Maidu artists: Dalbert Castro, Harry Fonseca, and Judith Lowry. Frank Day traveled the world, showing his work at various museums including: The Museum of the Native American in New York City, The Oakland Museum, Oakland, California, The Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, The Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, California, Long Beach Museum of Art, and many others.
George Morrison (Ojibwa)
Born on the Grand Portage Indian Reservation in Minnesota, George Morrison (1919-2000) attended the Minnesota School of Art (now the Minneapolis College of Art and Design). A Fulbright scholar, he studied in Paris and Antibes and taught at the Rhode Island School of Design and at the University of Minnesota. One of Minnesota’s most revered artists, he received numerous awards and honors including an honorary MFA degree in 1969 from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. In the same year, he was invited to visit Cuba as part of a cultural exchange program for the exhibition El Autentico Pueblo. In 1997, Morrison’s Red Totem was one of the 12 works chosen for a special exhibition in the Jacqueline Kennedy Sculpture Garden at the White House. He received the first Master Artist Award in 1999 from the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Indianapolis, Indiana.
Although he has chosen to work in an abstract style, he drew from his childhood memories of growing up near the banks of Lake Superior. Wanting to be seen simply as an American artist, he challenged the belief that Native artists must create traditional “Indian” works demanded by the mainstream market. Morrison’s desire to experiment with modern styles and methods became a catalyst to his designation as one of the first Native artists on the New York art scene. In the 1970s, Morrison began a series of large wood collages composted of pieces of driftwood he gathered on the shore. He always started these works with a horizon line, and the colors, textures and shapes of the wood pieces evoke the forms of movement of the sky, water, and shore of Lake Superior. Adding structure and integrating identity in his work, Morrison brought together the intersection of his cultural heritage and his Euro-American art education. By using Modern art methods, he was able to create a combination of artistic and cultural sensitivity to express himself as a Native artist.
Pablita Velarde, Tse Tsan, Golden Dawn (Santa Clara Pueblo)
Pablita Velarde (1918-2006) was born at Santa Clara Pueblo, an ancient village in New Mexico's northern Rio Grande Valley. At the age of fourteen, Pablita Velarde was accepted to and became the first full-time female student in Dorothy Dunn's Santa Fe Studio Art School (The Studio) at the Santa Fe Indian School, a school which produced the first generation of institutionally trained Indian painters, specialized in subject matter drawn from Native American community life. There, she was encouraged to develop her artistic talent and became an accomplished painter in the Dunn style, known as "flat painting." Even though it was not considered a suitable career in her culture, she aspired to be like Tonita Peña, a San Ildefonso Pueblo artist. Velarde painted in the “traditional” style of Santa Fe and did accurate portraits of Indian life and culture. At first she worked in watercolor, but later learned how to prepare paints from natural pigments (a process called Fresco secco). Pablita Velarde was best known for her earth paintings, where she used mineral and rock elements, which she ground on a metate and mano until the result was a powdery substance from which she made her paints. She painted almost exclusively on paper supports, and used watercolor and casein, in addition to the earth pigments.
A young Pablita Velarde was commissioned to create scenes of traditional Pueblo culture for the Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico. From 1937 to 1943, she produced over 70 paintings/murals to educate visitors on ancestral Pueblo sites. She was also known to create art derived from the Navajo sand painting tradition. Clara Tanner called her the “greatest woman artist in the Southwest.” Pueblo life, its people, buildings and childhood stories fueled her artwork. Combining elements and providing a window into traditional life from different Pueblos, her work shows the many roles within Pueblo society in the early- to mid-1900s. In her paintings, Velarde focused on Pueblo symbols, stories, and ceremonies. She believed that her art preserved the traditional way of life at Santa Clara, which changed drastically after World War II, when Los Alamos Laboratories opened nearby, hastening the pueblo's entrance into the national economy. Velarde has had solo shows in New Mexico, Florida, and California. She has won over twenty-five awards for her paintings, appeared in three feature films, and been discussed in over fifty articles. Still, she maintained her characteristic humility and, like many Pueblo people, credited not personal effort and talent but divine guidance for her accomplishments. The few Pueblo women who had gained public recognition for their art at that time were potters, such as Maria Martinez of San Ildefonso. Velarde was not only the first Pueblo woman to pursue a career as an easel painter, she was also the first Native American woman from any tribe to do so. In 1953, she was the first woman to receive the Grand Purchase Award at the Philbrook Museum of Art’s Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Indian Painting. In 1954 the French government honored her with the Palmes Academiques for excellence in art.
Emmi Whitehorse (Navajo)
Having graduated from the University of New Mexico with a Bachelor’s in painting in 1980 and a Master’s degree in Printmaking, Emmi Whitehorse (b.1956) is primarily known for her large, abstract mixed-media panels, often created with chalk, oil stick and pigment rubbed, drawn, and scratched onto paper and applied to canvas. Using a private language of symbols and memories, Whitehorse makes ‘personal diaries’ of her life as an artist and of her Native heritage. She creates textures and colors that conjure up the atmosphere and experience of the New Mexico landscape. Her paintings are made up of finely balanced forms and colors and metaphysical glimpses into the Navajo worldview. Whitehorse’s prints include signs, symbols and fragments of Navajo words floating in fields of color.
Emmi Whitehorse is represented in many public collections including the Heard Museum, Phoenix, Arizona; the Joslyn Museum, Omaha, Nebraska; the St. Louis Museum; and the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her work is in public collections in North America, Europe, Japan, Uzbekistan, and Morocco. She currently resides in Santa, Fe.
Doug Hyde (Nez Perce/Assiniboine/Chippewa)
Doug Hyde was born in Hermiston, Oregon in 1946. Through the teachings of his grandfather and other elders, Hyde was carefully instructed in the legends and morals of his people. Hyde attended the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, during which time he befriended and studied under the guidance of the late renowned Apache sculptor, Allan Houser. In 1967, Doug Hyde attended the San Francisco Art Institute on scholarship before enlisting in the U.S. Army. During his second tour of duty in Viet Nam, he was serious wounded by a grenade. During his recuperation, Hyde learned the use of power tools in the cutting and shaping of stone when he worked for a friend’s tombstone business. While he worked during the day, he continued his art education and sculpting at night. In a show sponsored by the Northern Plains Indian Museum in Browning, Montana, Doug Hyde entered and sold out his sculptures, realizing that he was ready to start his career in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
In 1973, a year after teaching at the Institute of American Indian Arts, he left the school to devote himself full-time to sculpting. Hyde's bronze and stone sculptures, often in monumental sizes, frequently represent childhood stories and historical events. What is of great importance to him is that they are accurate representations of their subject matter, and that process only occurs when he can visualize the finished sculpture in his mind. Doug Hyde has remained a resident of Santa Fe since 1972. His works may be viewed in the collections of the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, Heard Museum, Museum of the Southwest, Southwest Museum, Gilcrease Museum, The Eiteljorg Museum, and the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center among others.
Karen Noble (Chimariko/Karuk)
Karen Noble (b.1955) is Chimariko and Karuk, from Arcata, California and has exhibited at the Eureka Cultural Center, the Ink People Gallery in Eureka, California and the American Indian Contemporary Arts in San Francisco, California. In the painting titled White Deerskin Dancers, Noble’s inspiration came from her people’s ceremonies and the legacy of revitalizing and recovering traditional and sacred practices. Considered the most sacred ceremonies to Indian people along the Klamath River, the White Deerskin Dance symbolizes renewal, community strength, protection and prosperity. To obtain the skin of a white deer is to secure protection for life. These skins are very scarce and were handed down for several generations and must not be sold or traded. In the intervals between dances, the stories of former days are told and the laws are recited for all to observe. Having survived the devastation of white settlement and massacres, Native people along the Klamath saw the killing of a deer as a monthly occurrence, but to obtain the skin of a white deer is to obtain secure something more sacred. As the days of the ceremonies pass, the sponsors of the dance hand out more and more of their own and their friends' valuables for their dancers to wear. Dancers in the White Deerskin dance wear regalia of deer hide or civet cat kilts, masses of dentalia necklaces, and wolf-fur bands around their forehead while bright woodpecker scalps decorate the head. At this time, there also included various first-fruits ceremonies tied to a ceremonial calendar and specific locations. These elaborate ceremonies are intended to maintain the positive attributes of the natural world in which Native people live and to ensure a continuation of the earth's resources.
Paul Owns the Sabre (Miniconjou Lakota)
Paul Owns the Sabre (b.1939) grew up on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota. His natural artistic talent allows him visually interpret the stories, dreams, and songs of the Native peoples he has come to know. Owns the Sabre is a long distance runner and walker and in 1978, he participated in the Longest Walk, a journey across North America which starts in San Francisco and ends in Washington D.C., in an effort to confirm Indigenous solidarity. He has taken part in nine other sacred long distance runs and walks across the world to raise awareness and address the rights and concerns of Indigenous peoples. Recently, he has shown his support for young Native peoples in the 2008 Longest Walk. Owns the Sabre has been active in the Native community as a drug and alcohol youth counselor.
Hachivi Edgar Heap of Birds (Cheyenne/Arapaho)
Edgar Heap of Birds (b.1954) received his Master of Fine Arts from Tyler School of Art, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1979, his Bachelor of Fine Arts from The University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas in 1976 and has undertaken graduate studies at The Royal College of Art, London, England. Heap of Birds has taught as Visiting Professor at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island and Michaelis School of Art, University of Cape Town, South Africa. At the University of Oklahoma, Heap of Birds teaches in Native American Studies and Fine Arts. His seminars explore issues of the contemporary artist on local, national and international bases. He has served as a visiting lecturer in London, England, Western Samoa, Chiang Mai and Bangkok, Thailand, Johannesburg, South Africa, Barcelona, Spain, Belfast, Northern Ireland, Norrkoping, Sweden, Hararre, Zimbabwe and Adelaide, Australia.
The works of Heap of Birds include multi-disciplinary forms of public art messages, large scale drawings, Neuf Series acrylic paintings, prints and monumental porcelain enamel on steel outdoor sculpture. In the past decade, Heap of Birds has traveled around the world conducting research into the similarities of icons used by indigenous peoples in Australia, Africa, North and South America and Europe. He has continued to explore the relationships between his country’s living native cultures, contemporary society, history, and indigenous cultures from other continents. During this quest, he participated in residency programs in a variety of venues, including a local library in Providence with a strong Cape Verdian community and at the Chariho School near the Narragansett Indian Reservation of Richmond, Rhode Island. While in Cape Town for his show at the AVA, Heap of Birds took part in a residency at the Greatmore Artists’ Studios in Woodstock where he held a small showing of some of his earlier works referencing billboards and signs in the USA. Heap of Birds’ art work was chosen by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian as their entry towards the competition for the United States Pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennale where he represented NMAI with a major collateral public art project in Venice, June 2007.
Currently, Heap of Birds is faculty at Oklahoma University with a joint appointment in Native Studies and the Art Department. He has shown his art throughout the world and created numerous site-specific projects. His public projects have tended to draw attention to living native culture and the impact of history on the contemporary relationships between native and mainstream cultures. These works frequently make use of native symbols combined with the form and language of today’s public culture – signage, billboards, buses, etc
Lyn Risling (Hupa/Karuk/Yurok)
Lyn Risling is Karuk, Yurok and a member of the Hupa Tribe of Northwestern California. Risling received a Bachelor of Arts degree from UC Davis in 1973 and a Master of Arts from Humboldt State University in 1997. A prominent community member, Risling has dedicated herself to revitalization efforts of her people. She has shown her work in her local annual exhibition, From the Source, which has been sponsored by the Ink People and the United Indian Health Services in Eureka and Arcata, California. In 2004, she was a recipient of the First Peoples Fund's Community Spirit Award which honors a Native Artists whose works reflect a strong commitment to their communities and Native culture.
Her paintings reflect a worldview that comes from her tribal heritage by revealing glimpses into stories, ceremonies and other traditions. Risling’s artistic ability to integrate the concept of decolonization with the revitalization of traditional ways is balanced with a sense of renewal, balance, transformation and continuation. Her use of vibrant colors and tribal designs helps connect the physical and spiritual world, as well as the past and present. In a solo show at the C.N. Gorman Museum, she explored and addressed the re-surfacing of the One-Eleven tattooing practice by Klamath and the Salmon and Trinity River peoples. Risling is the daughter of activist, leader, and UC Davis emeritus professor of Native American Studies, the late David Risling. Currently, she teaches art and culture to Native youth, in addition to her participation in many community organizations and events.
Kay Walkingstick (Cherokee)
A New York City Native painter whose style includes realism, conceptualism, and abstract expressionism, Kay Walkingstick (b.1935) uses her identity, religion, and heritage to create landscapes, figural depictions, and other symbolic works to connect reality with spirituality. She attended Beaver College in Glenside, Pennsylvania, graduating with a BFA in 1959 and in 1972 she earned a Danforth Fellowship, which she used to attend the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. In 1975, she graduated with her Master’s degree in Fine Arts.
As an abstract artist, her work deals with issues of her mixed ancestry, the sacredness of the earth, the balance between land and space, and the relationship between spirituality and the physical being. In the mid-1980s, Walkingstick began an ongoing series of diptych paintings, prints, and drawings, in which she used two juxtaposed images to represent different aspects of a subject or a theme. Loaded with meaning, her paintings have always been highly referential, yet quite minimal. Her work can be found in several museum collections, including the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Arts in Indianapolis, Indiana, the National Museum of the American in Washington, D.C. and the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She currently resides in New York and was a professor at Cornell University from 1988-2005.
Brian Tripp (Karuk)
Before entering college, Brian Tripp (b.1945) was drafted and sent to North Carolina as an Army payroll clerk. After his duty in Vietnam, he studied at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, receiving a bachelor’s degree in Art. He continued at Humboldt as an art instructor until 1992. As an honored Karuk traditionalist, singer and dancer, Tripp has been instrumental in the preservation of his people’s traditions. In addition to being a highly regarded contemporary visual artist, Tripp serves as a cultural consultant for a number of organizations.
Tripp has exhibited and lectured in San Francisco and New York, as well as having done residencies at the Kunst in Der Landshaft, Prigglitz, Austria, Ecoe d’Art Aix en Provence, Provence, France, and the Open Air Modern Art Museum in Pedvale, Lativa. His paintings are modern and hard-edged, yet faithfully based on Karuk designs. He ranges from avant-garde to forms that have been passed down from generation to generation in Karuk regalia. He utilizes many different forms of media, using materials as varied as paint, aluminum foil, street signs, glass, and wood. The New York Times once described his work as “Indian themes, innovatively handled, whose beautifully modulated drawings pay contemporary tribute to traditional geometric design.”
George Longfish (Seneca/Tuscarora)
George Longfish (b.1942) is an international noted artist. He attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, earning a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts and Master’s of Fine Arts degree. Longfish was the director for the Graduate Program in American Indian Art at the University of Montana in 1972 and a Professor of Native American Art at the University of California, Davis from 1972-2003 and Director of the C.N. Gorman Museum from 1974-1996. He is well known for his mixed media paintings that stress the importance of owning one’s cultural information and passing it to future generations. He draws upon Native symbolism to inculcate his work with Native traditions and beliefs, while using non-Native commercially based icons to undermine the stereotyped representations. Longfish’s works often use humor and irony to address issues of decolonization and Native identity. He is best known for his large, vivid paintings incorporating stenciled text.
A longtime UC Davis faculty member, Longfish published essays regarding the history and placement of contemporary Native art. His commitment and dedication to furthering the works of Native artists has contributed immensely to the identity and visibility of the contemporary Native American art movement. Longfish has exhibited extensively including: the Hunt-Henry Gallery, Chicago; the Henry Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle; the Oakland Museum, Oakland, California; the Art Institute of Chicago; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Casa de las Americas, Havana, Cuba; the Alternative Museum, New York, and in Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Columbia and Ecuador.
Frank Tuttle (Konkow Maidu, Yuki, Wailaki)
Frank Tuttle (b.1957) holds a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree from California State University, Humboldt (now Humboldt State University). A Native Californian, Tuttle has devoted much of his life to his family and acquiring traditional manufacturing techniques of his people that have been rarely used or forgotten. As a modern painter, he is continually searching for new ways to express his understanding the power of the Creation. Tuttle experiments with imagery and materials to further explore the meanings of tradition in contemporary social and artistic contexts. As a Native art historian, he has written, “I enjoy a particular thrill in being able to contrast and compare fragments of the old and new order. There exists a continuum of the tradition of the vision quest in which the new visions, as works of art, are informed by both Indian traditions and the modern art traditions.”
Tuttle’s work searches for the essence of the traditions and ceremonies of Native people from Northern and Central California. His images are visual reminders of ancestral memories, filled with joy and celebration, thanks and prayers. Tuttle’s personal memory intersects with communal memory. As a basketweaver and dancer, he has used his traditional views to conjure images true to his people’s memory. Tuttle has exhibited at the Santa Rosa Junior College Gallery, the Richmond Art Center in Richmond, California, and at the Memorial Union and Gorman Museum, found on the campus of UC Davis.
Larry McNeil (Tlingit/Nisga’a)
Larry McNeil (b.1955) is of the Kéet Gooshi Hít (Killerwhale Fin House) of the Chilkat Tlingit Nation of Alaska. An artist and scholar, and Professor of Photography, McNeil has helped set up the digital photography curriculum at two schools. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Brooks Institute in 1978 and went on to receive his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of New Mexico with an emphasis in photography in 1999. Previously an instructor at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa, Fe, McNeil has been the recipient of recent national awards, including the Eiteljorg Fellowship in Native American Art, the National Geographic All Roads Photography award (the only chosen winner in the United States) and a New Works award in En Foco. In addition, McNeil was chosen as one of five artists in the nation to contribute to the Art in Embassies program. McNeil’s work reflects the survival of many generations of Tlingits, as well as other Native peoples, as they integrate humor and retain their culture amongst acculturation and domination of mainstream societal values and attitudes.
McNeil exhibits at many national museums and galleries including: the National Museum of the American Indian, New York, New York; Art Gallery of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada; Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fe; Ansel Adams Center for Photography, San Francisco; and the Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. Over the years, he has exhibited portions of his Fly by Night Mythology series at The Barbican Gallery in London, the International Center of Photography in New York City, and at the San Diego Museum of Art. Currently, he is full tenured professor at Boise State University, teaching undergraduate and graduate students both film and digitally based photography.
Melanie Yazzie (Diné)
Melanie Yazzie (b.1966) is of the Salt and Bitter water clans of the Diné people. Her passion for art began when she left the Navajo homelands and enrolled at the Westtown Boarding School in Pennsylvania. After being accepted into Arizona State University as a fine arts student, she began to reclaim Diné oral traditions and histories, creating images inspired by the Navajo Creation stories, but also learning more about the Southwest and Mexico’s Far North. In 1990, Yazzie earned a Bachelor’s degree in Studio Arts with minor in Spanish. At the University of Colorado, Boulder, she went on to receive her Master of Fine Arts degree in Printmaking in 1993, as she continued to focus on the remnants of colonization that affects global indigenous peoples, exploring the postcolonial conundrums and personal notions of identity. She taught at the Institute of American Indian Arts, Boise State University, University of Arizona, and was a visiting professor at Pont Avon School of Art in France.
As a painter, printmaker and sculptor, Yazzie works in a variety of media including ceramics, among others. Through her installations, she examines both internal and external influences on Native people. For instance, neither the cloth in the Diné skirts nor of the Blue Bird flour bags are indigenous to the Diné people, but after being filtered through the hearts and hands of its women, they become synonymous with it. By using the personal example of her own family, Yazzie presents real portrayal of Native culture, without idealizing, degrading or commercializing it. Although her work is witty, colorful and at times political, it provides insight into significant references of post-colonial dilemmas, matrilineal systems and female leadership. By developing works from her experiences as a child in Ganado, AZ, she cleverly conveys feelings of living between two worlds.
Yazzie is nationally and internationally exhibited in major institutions including the Australian National Gallery, TE WAKA TOI Maori Contemporary Arts, Rhodes University (South Africa), the Corcoran Museum (Washington, DC), The Institute of American Indian Arts, Anchorage Museum of History & Art, the Arizona State University Art Museum and Santa Fe Museum of Fine Arts. Currently, she is currently Associate Professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, teaching two dimensional art courses.
Yazzie leads several collaborative international projects with artists in New Zealand, Siberia, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Germany and Japan which includes the current selection of works from the portfolios, Visual Transparencies, Vol. I, II & III which was donated to the museum collections in 2007.