Native Artists You Should Know and Share

Merritt Johnson: a multidisciplinary artist who incorporates performance into her practice. She explores language, examining aphorisms and forcing us to think about what we say. “I work from my perspective as mixed, descending from Onkwehonwe (native people) and settlers, so I am exploring my experience and learning about where I come from as well.”

 Shonto Begay: a painter of lyrical, pointillistic work, to which he refers the strokes of paint as, “repeating like words of a Navajo prayer.” Begay states that he survived the brutal Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school, meant to assimilate native children and remove their cultural affiliations, by drawing on his cultural and spiritual strength. “Arts saves lives” is his mantra. He was born on Dineh land, known as the Navajo nation.

Molly Murphy Adams: learned beadwork at a very early age, as well as hide tanning, sewing and traditional clothing design. A mixed blood descendent of the Oglala, Lakota tribe, Murphy-Adams was raised in western Montana and earned a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts from The University of Montana in 2004. “The liberties I take with materials, line quality, and design elements reflect my interest in contemporary art and the development of abstraction in the Western art tradition. My work reflects the issues of politics, cultural identity, and learning to live with the weight of the past.”

Lillian Pitt: a Pacific Northwest Native American artist, she was born and raised on the Warm Springs reservation in Oregon. “I was in my 30’s, and already an artist before I knew that my ancestors lived in the Columbia River Gorge for more than 10,000 years. I had no idea. That’s 8,000 years before the time of Christ, and 6,000 years before the time of the Great Pyramids at Giza! My family never spoke about it, because when I was growing up, it was better for our survival to try and cover up the fact that we were Indian.”

She has accumulated a lifetime of works in a variety of media including clay, bronze, wearable art, prints, glass, and jewelry. Her works are regularly exhibited throughout the Pacific Northwest, as well as nationally and internationally.

Votan Hernriquez: a Los Angeles native who is of Mayan and Nahua roots He blends the knowledge of his ancestry, his experience of graphic design and art, and awareness of the issues facing native people to create artworks which include blending contemporary art techniques with old Mayan symbology.

Toma Villa:  Yakama Toma Villa’s portfolio includes murals, including those at Chief Joseph School in Portland and at Chief Kitsap Academy in Suquamish, Washington. Known for his graffiti art, he also has experience in printmaking, painting, airbrush, sculpture, and design. In addition, he works weaving cedar, making hats.

Wendy Red Star: working across disciplines, Red Star explores the intersections of Native American ideologies and colonialist structures, both historically and in contemporary society. Raised on the Apsáalooke (Crow) reservation in Montana, Red Star’s work is informed both by her cultural heritage and her engagement with many forms of creative expression, including photography, sculpture, video, fiber arts, and performance.

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Artists Develop

My 8th graders will be doing Artistic Habit units this year. After a round of Artistic Habits around the room, we are starting with “Artists Develop” This is fashioned off of one of Ian Sands’ Artistic Habits units. (see the Open Art Room)

Students have selected a specific skill they want to improve on artistically. They did a “before” drawing or task to show their current skills. You can see the start of their progress on our Artsonia. 

Like most middle schoolers there are “friend trends” as I like to call them. A group of girls that like to sit together will all be working on drawing realistic eyes or faces. A pod of sports playing boys will be drawing sports figures in action. A pair of painters will be working on sunsets in a variety of paints. There are a few outliers. One stencil graffiti artist. I am sure one of my students, when he returns from his first fall cold, will pick video game programming.

My 8th grade classes are really small this year, so I will be able to give a lot of one-on-one attention to these projects. Looking forward to seeing how this works. My next two unit ideas are Artists Solve Problems and Artists Communicate. The Open Art Room and the Summer TAB Institute were both so inspiring to take my students beyond my past themes and into these higher level units.

Wish us luck!

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Daily Demos

In the TAB classroom there is always a daily demo… these short bursts of information are to help students understand materials, techniques and the art world. This year I am taking a new approach to my demos. I have never been good about exposing my students to artists. 🙁 I also wanted to make sure I was considering different artist perspectives and experiences (race, gender, place and time) So I made a personal goal to expose them more often and with more variety. We are also rolling out PBIS so building community and relationships is a big focus. With these goals in mind and because I like organization to help me stay on track… each day has a theme! I will usually use videos… because they allow me to take attendance, do any last minute prep, have a quick private conversation with a student… and the kids  just pay attention better and I know all 6 classes get the same info.

  • Museum Monday: will be artists, art styles and periods.
  • Technique Tuesday: will be techniques related to the current around the room game, boot camp or studio needs.
  • Weird Wednesday and Funky Friday: both the same idea… showing those out there things that artists are doing.
  • Thoughtful Thursday: will be related to mindfulness or community building, also an opportunity for critiques.

Here is what we have done so far this year!

NOTE: none of these videos are made by me, although I have made videos in the past. I have other things I need to spend my time on these days, so why reinvent the wheel? I have more fun finding interesting videos and screening them than making my own.

Museum Monday:

Technique Tuesday:

Weird Wednesday: 

Fun Friday: 

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Resources Available

The internet is BLOWING up with teachers new to TAB and CHOICE wanting to jump in with my Around The Room ©2014 games. People keep emailing and messaging me for the printables, worksheets, task cards and more. However, I think it is very important to design YOUR OWN… because each TAB/CHOICE room is a unique animal. TAB/CHOICE is NOT a packaged curriculum, it is a pedagogy and a state of mind in how you approach your chosen lessons and yes, even projects.


  • What do Artists do?
  • The child is the Artist.
  • The Art room is their studio.

With that being said, seeing how I structure my Around The Room ©2014 games can be valuable in order to get started in creating your own. So throughout the next couple months you will see bundles of resources popping up in my Teacher Pay Teacher store.

If you download and use, PLEASE go rate me and comment and share and tell me how you changed the units to make it work for your students! I am working on a book and could include other modifications.

Go check it out Artechtivity on TPT:

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Setting up the TAB classroom

To prepare for our TAB Institute training we were provided with some required reading. The articles below were for the first module about setting up the TAB classroom. After reading two or more we were to formulate a response. My response was titled “After 14 years and starting over again.”

Q2. how has the way you organize and introduce tools, materials, techniques, references and resources changed over time.

I have been in the same room for 14 years honing my centers down to perfection.. or at least workable, satisfying levels of organization and student access. It has changed over the years, mostly what storage tubs and labels I use and where in the classroom they are located… I have written a lot about my centers on my blog.

But I have packed almost everything (we still have 6 days of school.. and only got my password figured out today… so I am behind on all of this reading and discussion stuff.) And all my stuff will get moved by contracted movers sometime in august. hopefully not too close to the beginning of the year I will get to start setting up and figuring out how my centers will look in a gen ed classroom, with no storage and one little hand washing sink. But thankful I will have a sink. I really have no clue how my centers will be set up. I have had them all out on my counters, with the big table closest to that area as the work table for that center. But I won’t have any counters. And my big tables may or may not fit.
I started introducing my centers with around the room games 4-5 years ago. And I continue to use this method to quickly introduce kids to what materials I have in the studio.

Here are a few great TAB resources curated by Kathy Douglas and Diane Jaquith.

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