5 Native American Artists You Should Know

From Joan Hill to Maria Tallchief

Film, fashion, comedy, photography: there isn’t a single creative medium that Native American culture hasn’t influenced. Here are 5 artists you should know more about.

Radmilla Cody (1975-present; Navajo)

Breaking tradition by being crowned Miss Navajo World (being half African-American), Radmilla Cody later recorded songs primarily in her native Navajo. Growing up in the Navajo nation, her chores included weaving, an important tradition in Native American culture similar to Quillwork. Cody often spent this time singing, influenced by chants sung by her grandfather, a medicine man. Her haunting voice gets full focus in Shi Keyah: Songs for the People, a Grammy-nominated album.

Portrait of Radmilla Cody, Navajo, Diné, Navajo singer and Grammy nominee. (Collection: One World, Many Voices: The Artistry of Canyon Records, Pueblo Grande Museum)

Joan Hill (1930-present; Muskogee Creek)

Joan Hill wouldn’t be pinned down to any single style or technique. Strongly influenced by the Creek legends her father passed down to her, she also drew inspiration from a wide variety of cultures, native and otherwise. Her paintings in many media—oil, tempera, water color, pastel, ink and mixed media—blended Native American artistic methods with European traditions that ranged from realism to abstract expressionism. Her works often use negative space to define to define foliage, mounds, or other landscape features.

Morning in the Indian Village 1972 (Southeastern Artists, Bureau of Indian Affairs)

Lloyd Kiva New (1916-2002; Cherokee)

Lloyd Henri New evolved from a fashion designer to a powerful influence, driving generations of Native American artists to turn their visions into sustainable careers. Born in the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma in 1916, he began teaching art on Indian reservations and later co-founded the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe. New strongly believed artists should retain creative links to tradition without being bounded by it.

Untitled Abstract 1967 (Collection: Southeastern Artists, Bureau of Indian Affairs)

Supaman (1974-present; Crow)

Hailing from Montana’s Crow Reservation , Supaman (aka Christian Parrish Takes the Gun) combines traditional Native American music with hip-hop. He’s known for performing from head to moccasin in full headdress and tales of reservation life, with similarities to inner-city hip-hop stories. “Dance like your children are watching, your ancestors, your family. Dance for those who are hurting, those who can't dance, those who lost loved ones and those who suffer injustices throughout the world.”

Crow moccasins with tanned one piece leather beaded upper and rawhide sole, similar to those worn by Supaman during his performances. (Collection: Moccasins, Wyoming State Museum)

Maria Tallchief (1925-2013; Osage)

The first major prima ballerina for the New York City ballet, Tallchief was born in Oklahoma’s Osage Indian reservation in 1925. She was the muse of choreographer George Balanchine and best known for her powerful performance in Stravinsky’s “Firebird.” During her long career, she maintained close ties to her community and refused to compromise her cultural identity.

Alfred Eisenstaedt 1961, Ballerina Maria Tallchief performing in the Nutcracker Ballet at City Center (Collection: LIFE Photo Collection)
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