Oklahoma’s artistic landscape is filled with many Native artists who express their culture, spirituality and personality through paint, alabaster or beadwork for all to see. Like many artists, Michael “Huzo” Paddlety (1960-2015) put his soul into his art. But it’s his sense of color and imagery that caused his work to stand out among many others.
“Huzo Paddlety comes from a vein of Oklahoma two-dimensional flat style art. For me, he’s taken it to a whole new level,” said Boots Kennedye, Kiowa, a documentary producer with Vision Maker Media. “Not just the bright, vibrant color schemes, but even if you look at a lot of his paintings, he does this type of transitional fade with colors–from to blue to orange. For me, for that color scheme to change–from that striking blue to these really bold oranges — reflects on the artist, who they are, and what they’re thinking at the time when they’re actually painting.”
Paddlety was a member of the Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara Tribes. He was born on November 13, 1960, in Billings, Montana, and was adopted and raised by David Leroy and Louise Paddlety, a Kiowa family. Paddlety lived most of his life in Anadarko, Okla., within the Kiowa community, as well as a few years living on the Hopi Reservation. He passed from this world on June 16, 2015.
Paddlety attended Anadarko High School in the late 1970s, where he played football and honed his artistic talent. One of his classmates was Tracey Satepauhoodle-Mikannen, Kiowa, who currently serves as the executive director of the Jacobson House Native Art Center. Satepauhoodle-Mikannen said that Paddlety’s “free spirited” personality is reflected in his paintings — warm, vibrant and compassionate.
“His heart never changed,” she said. “That raw, quick talent that he had — to be able to put something on paper or canvas, it never changed. It remained the same. He looked at the world — I feel like — what you see in his paintings, he saw the world through those vibrant colors and those spiritual eyes.”
Paddlety’s love for color was not limited to canvas. It can still be seen throughout Southwest Oklahoma, on murals in downtown Anadarko or restaurants on the edge of town. In 1998, his designs were the t-shirt for the American Indian Exposition. His subject matter included crackling lightning, flowing horses and ghostly warriors, but also had a soft touch that included mothers holding infants in a cradleboard. In the majority of his works, a scissortailed flycatcher motif can be seen flying.
“His contribution is just the pure passion for art,” Satepauhoodle-Mikannen said. “His upbringing and his spiritual heart was truly portrayed in his art. The immensity of his spiritual aspects and what he could put on canvas, just through the power of art, made you see what kind of power he had to reach your soul.”
Shortly after graduation, Satepauhoodle-Mikannen received a phone call from Paddlety. He said he needed a break from painting and wanted to take her on a motorcycle ride. The sense of freedom from riding with him that day is what she feels in his art. After the ride, he called her to say thank you. “‘That’s what I needed was to feel that flying in the air and that wind through my hair,’” he said on the phone to her. “That was one of my favorite times with Huzo — that feeling of freedom.”
According to Kennedye, Paddlety wanted people to enjoy and experience his art just as much as he did. Sometimes, it meant that personal connection was more important than making a sale. Paddlety shared a story with Kennedye about one occasion when he declined an art sale. The collector wanted one of Paddlety’s paintings, but only because he was an up-and-coming artist.
“After the conversation, he politely thanked them for their interest, but he wouldn’t sell it to them,” Kennedye said. “He said to me that it was much more important for someone to really want his art because of the emotion that was drawing them to it.”
For Satepauhoodle-Mikannen, the loss is felt on a deep, personal level, and it has been felt through the Native art community. “It’s a very sad loss because of his talent,” she said. “He had so much to give. He did it through his paintings. With his color and technique, you couldn’t help but feel that spiritual freedom.”
Despite Paddlety’s death, Satepauhoodle-Mikannen has many living, daily reminders of who he was as a person and how she remembers him. This could include catching a glimpse of the scissortails that he was so fond of painting, or just simply the day itself.
“When it’s so bright outside and you can see the true colors, that’s how Huzo was,” she said.