“Renowned Osage artist Gina Gray, 60, passed peacefully away Saturday December 20, 2014 in her Indian Camp home In Pawhuska, Oklahoma. She was surrounded by family at the time of her passing.” She was laid to rest on December 24. So it said in The Osage News and history is made, her-story really.
Gina Gray was old school IAIA, The Osage News said, “Gina followed a family tradition of fighting for native rights when she hitchhiked from Santa Fe N.M. in the middle of winter of 1973 to the historic occupation of Wounded Knee in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. She returned to her studies at IAIA after a month at Wounded Knee. Many programs were born after the occupation to the betterment of Indian country.”
The Plateros performing in September 2014. Photo by Jason Morgan Edwards
Gina also served a four-year term as a Commissioner from the Secretary of the Interior for the IACB in Washington D.C.; winning SWAIA’s Santa Fe Indian Market Fellowship Award in 1992 was a great honor for her; she was selected to do the cover of the NCAI History Book; and was often a featured artist at the Smithsonian’s NMAI-the National Museum of the American Indian. She was welcome at every NDN acronym reception, function or gala.
A CIA grad (California Institute of Arts) in commercial art, Gina Gray was among the first to design, market and retail her work as wearable Native art; she developed her very own graphic sense and style with her prolific monotype production; she owned galleries in Santa Fe and Tulsa; her art was well traveled, her paintings and prints widely collected, she was respected by her peers.
I last met her in Santa Fe at America Meredith’s Ahalenia Studio FBI Surveillance Show, along with Suzan Shown Harjo, Richard Ray Whitman and the usual suspects — that old school IAIA crowd. Gina was part of that history when the whole Santa Fe Art Market was really hot, SWAIA’s Indian Market was going through changes as was the whole contemporary Native Art scene. She called me when Billy Soza Warsoldier passed away, she felt that his story and that time in history needed re-telling.
As I researched Gina, it was hard to find a presence on the Net, she was Old School and had health issues limiting her work. I had compiled a list of Native Painters and saw that most were male and yet Gina Gray was there at an important time in Santa Fe and Indian Art history, and she could represent not only her Osage roots but all Native women artists. Most renowned Native women artists have been and still are clay artists; Gina Gray would be comparable to Helen Hardin, Linda Lomahaftewa, Jean LaMarr, Melanie Yazzie in a painting/printmaking marketing sense. If you list the female painters that worked or did business in Santa Fe over the years, she would be near the top and at the beginning, from Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Emmi Whitehorse, Kay Walkingstick, CJ Wells, Barbara Emerson, and now to Judith Lowry, America Meredith, and Marla Allison. I feel Gina didn’t make some of these lists because of her commercial art background, yet that’s what made her work available everywhere in Indian country, at pow wows and museum gift-shops; every Indian Market you will see folks proudly wearing her art.
Gina Gray named her Santa Fe gallery after her great grandfather Henry Roan Horse, who was murdered for his “head rights” on the oil-rich Osage Reservation and for trying to bring attention to other “head rights” murders. Gina Gray was part of that Santa Fe-Oklahoma crowd — Anita Fields, Bennie Buffalo, Carl and Wendy Ponca, Norman Akers, and many more — but as the scene changed in Santa Fe in the early ’90s, she left Santa Fe and returned home to Oklahoma. I recall her as a both a loud painter type, full of energy, and a meditative earth mother focused on her prints and designs; and over the years I recall my friends saying, “Gina’s in town!” back in Santa Fe like it was a big thing.
I found a statement from her in a 1999 book, Earth Song, Moon Dream: American Indian Women Painters: “I don’t consider myself a traditionalist … we were encouraged to move to a more urban settlement. My cultural upbringing was very diverse. This is probably the origin of my strong usage of colors, the brilliance of our universe, the multi-heritages of an urban collaboration, the personalities and influences that this multi-cultural lifestyle has had upon my people … however corrupt or divine.”
I think it’s her whole body of work, her design and marketing sense that she’ll be remembered for, plus she got ready for pow wows and art receptions with equal gusto and panache. All the Brothers may have gone to Billy Warsoldier’s funeral almost one year ago, but I’m sure the Brothers and Sisters went to pay last respects to Ms. Gray at this Christmas time. And that’s what I know of her-story, Gina Gray led a good artist’s life, she’ll be celebrated, honored, toasted and missed … and she’d just laugh about it. … Aaay!
Alex Jacobs (IAIA ’77)
Santa Fe NM