Shy Susan Medicine Flower by Joan HillBureau of Indian Affairs Museum Program

Joan Hill (b. 1930)

Joan Hill, Creek and Cherokee, was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Ms. Hill attended Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in education, then taught art at a junior high school for four years.

Titled "Cherokee Eagle Dancers" (1964) by Joan HillBureau of Indian Affairs Museum Program

While still teaching, Ms. Hill took art classes at the Philbrook Museum and ultimately decided to devote herself full-time to art.

Titled "Creek Ribbon Dance" (1964) by Joan HillBureau of Indian Affairs Museum Program

Ms. Hill had not been raised in a traditional Native American household. Although she wanted to paint Native American subjects, she worried that she lacked knowledge about her culture. After she shared this concern with her father, he agreed to teach her the Creek legends that he had been taught by his father and grandfather. His stories had a strong impact on the subjects that Ms. Hill painted throughout her life.

Titled "Legend of Medicine Lake" (1968) by Joan HillBureau of Indian Affairs Museum Program

Ms. Hill painted in a variety of styles – realism, expressionism, abstract expressionism – as well as using traditional Native American artistic techniques. She experimented with media, using oil, tempera, water color, pastel, ink, and mixed media.

Although Ms. Hill often drew on her heritage, focusing on Creek and Cherokee subjects, she also drew inspiration from other Native American cultures. Her paintings depict abstract landscapes with pueblos, or other aspects of the lives of various cultural regions and Indian tribes across the United States.

Titled "Preparing for the Performance" (February 1969) by Joan HillBureau of Indian Affairs Museum Program

Unlike many other Native American artists in the in the Southeast, Joan Hill did not pursue a career in art education.

Ms. Hill once said that although she had many offers to teach in universities across the country, and that she loved teaching, she found that her early four years of teaching left little time for her own art.

Titled "The Songs of Our Fathers" (1974) by Joan HillBureau of Indian Affairs Museum Program

In addition to receiving national acclaim, Ms. Hill has been recognized throughout the world. In 1978, when China temporarily lifted the ban on Western art and allowed art schools to reopen, Ms. Hill became one of only 24 American artists invited to visit China and meet with the professors of the Central Art Academy of Peking giving Ms. Hill the opportunity to introduce Native American artistic styles to China.

Titled "Morning in the Indian Village" (1975) by Joan HillBureau of Indian Affairs Museum Program

Joan Hill has received more than 270 awards for her artwork. In 1974, the Five Civilized Tribes Museum designated her a Master Artist, the first female to be given this honor. The Smithsonian Institution designated her one of the “People of the Century.” Her career has been an inspiration for both female and Native American artists for decades.

Credits: Story

Native American Artists of the Southeast was developed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs Museum Program, September 2016.

Shannon Stiles, Staff Curator
Annie Pardo, Museum Program Manager
(with assistance from the summer intern)


Everett, Dianna. “Hill, Joan (1930- ).” Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Oklahoma Historical Society. Accessed August 18, 2016.

Martindale, Rob. “Following a Master: How Joan Hill Became One of America’s Leading Indian Artists.” Tulsa World, December 16, 1990. Accessed August 18, 2016.

Palmer, Meredith. “When Public Policy Made a Difference: American Paintings in china in 1981.” The Washington Post, December 23, 2011. Accessed September 29, 2016.

Pierpoint, Mary. “Honored One Red Earth 2000: Native American Artist Joan Hill.” Indian Country Today Media Network, June 28, 2000. Accessed August 18, 2016.

“Women’s Voices at the Council, by Joan Hill.” Oklahoma Arts Council. Accessed August 18, 2016.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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