From the Spring 1991 issue of The Messenger, the Wheelwright Museum’s former tri-annual newsletter.
Neeznáá: Emmi Whitehorse: Ten Years
Members opening Saturday, February 16, 5:30 – 7:30 PM
Public opening Sunday, February 17, 1 – 5 PM
Over the past ten years, Navajo painter Emmi Whitehorse has been moving through th art world at a dizzying pace. Now she has taken the time to step back and look at these years in perspective, to see what she has done, where she has been, and to determine where she wants to go. With these criteria in mind, she has worked with the museum to assemble what she considers her most important painting of the past decade. (Neeznáá means ten in Navajo.)
Emmi admits that she has been passionately involved in her art since she was a tiny child. “That’s all I knew how to do — draw,” she says. Like many other Indian children, she was taken away from home at the age of five to be placed in a government school. When her mother told her she was going away, she recalls, she felt happy because she would “be able to play on the swings and draw.” Introduced to a new kind of discipline, she remembers, “there was a lot more involved in going to school. I just assumed there would be unlimited amounts of paper and drawing all day and I was pretty disappointed to find out that wasn’t true.. I used to hide my disappointment… go off into my drawing more.. not listening to what was being said or taught.. in one instance I drew so much that I wasn’t allowed to have a pen or pencil or paper in one of the classrooms.”
When an older brother found a job in Page, Arizona, Emmi went there to attend high school. She was encouraged in art and drama. She won awards and small amounts of money. A tribal scholarship enabled her to go to the University of New Mexico to continue her art studies. At UNM she worked with John Sommers and Garo Antreasian, and she established a deep friendship with another student, Juane Quick-To-See Smith. Whitehorse became a member of the Grey Canyon Group founded by Smith. Her paintings were in the Group Exposition of Native American Art at UNM in 1977, and at the Wheelwright Museum in 1980. In that year, Emmi received her B.A. in painting. Two years later, she achieved an M.A. in printmaking with a minor in art history.
Emmi spent the next five years in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The tree-shaded roads and grey skies of the Connecticut shoreline exerted their influence; she began to include the green of the area and the ocean colors in aspects of her work. She spent hours in the museum of New York City, and traveled abroad to observe the work of her contemporaries and to establish her position in galleries in Italy and Germany. Now, Whitehorse says, she is back home in the Southwest, in person and in spirit.
“I’ve always used a lot of personal items in my work,” Whitehorse says today. “In the early days it was my father’s brands and my grandmother’s designs and patterns that I incorporated in a lot of my work. I still do that. To this day I still use a lot of personal imagery that I live with every day.” Of NEEZNAA, Whitehorse says “I see it as a new doorway to something bigger. It puts a lot of things in perspective; where I’ve come from, how far I’ve come. I’m not looking back, I’m stepping aside, looking at my work. It’s like a critique for me.”
Emmy Whitehose will be present at the Members Opening February 16, 5:30 to 7:30 PM.