Southern Cheyenne Artist Speaks on ‘Tradition Redefined’

Merlin Little Thunder

Published May 21, 2017

SULPHUR, OKLAHOMA — Award-winning Southern Cheyenne artist Merlin Little Thunder is among the 10 elite Native artists presenting Artists Talks during the fourth annual Artesian Arts Festival, May 27, 2017.

Working in a variety of media, Little Thunder’s contemporary style is known for the expansive stories he tells with his meticulously-detailed miniatures.

Little Thunder, a Tulsa, Oklahoma, resident, is speaking on the topic “Tradition redefined in artistic terms,” at 12:20 p.m. during the Artist Talks in the ARTesian Art Gallery during the Artesian Arts Festival.

This is his first visit to the Artesian Arts Festival, however, Little Thunder hopes visitors to the Chickasaw Nation event, gain more education about Native people, Native art and the high-caliber artists who are participating.

“I hope those who visit the Artesian Arts Festival will see that we have museum quality, nationally – known artists right here among us,” said Little Thunder.

The contemporary artist has been perfecting his art since grade school in the small community of Fonda in western Oklahoma, where he learned to work in acrylics and paint in primary colors, something he still employs today.

Following art studies at Bacone College, Eastern Oklahoma State College and Southwestern Oklahoma State University, Little Thunder became a full time artist in the early 1980s.

He has been making a significant impact on the art world in the past three decades, with visually stunning works such as “She Married a Man from Paradise,” Practicing Showing Off for the Big Dance,” “The Girl who Married a Bear” and “The Ruby Moccasins.”

“The Ruby Moccasins” depict red Moccasins and leggings worn by a Cheyenne Society Sister and a pair of green-hued hands attempting to cast a spell to take them. In Cheyenne culture, this regalia is reserved for girls who have earned the honor of wearing it, Little Thunder explained.

“I painted this to empower the people. Our symbols and designs still have power and have to be earned, there is no artistic license for these cultural items, because they are still in use on a higher level,” he said.

Little Thunder is known for his detailed miniature paintings. The detail in his paintings are tiny, but the stories the Cheyenne artist tells through his art are enormous, connecting the artists to his tribal heritage and history.

“I hope that people will see and understand that Indian art is alive, it breathes, lives and thrives among us Indian people. It brings hope to all of us and the promise that we will always be able to see behind us, from where we came, and to see what is in front of us where we are going to,” he said.

Little Thunder paints the history and tribal culture with a sense of humor. As he paints, he creates a story about the painting.

He is known as a perfectionist, who constantly seeks to improve his technique, spending hours researching his subjects. The Southern Cheyenne artist is also known for his multi-matted framing featuring a distinctive bolt of lightning and thunderclouds cut into the surface of the mat.

Honors and Awards

Little Thunder was named the Honored One during the 2015 Red Earth Festival, a designation given to a master visual artist who has influenced the American Indian art community.

He has won numerous awards at the American Indian and Cowboy Artists National Western Art Exhibition in San Dimas, California; the Colorado Indian Market, Denver; the Trail of Tears Art show at the Cherokee National Museum, Tahlequah, Oklahoma; the Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonials, Gallup, New Mexico, the Oklahoma Center for Science and Art at the Kirkpatrick Center, Oklahoma City; the Cheyenne-Arapaho Museum, Canton, Oklahoma, and the Great Southern Plains Indian and Western Art show.

Numerous private and public art collections feature artwork by Little Thunder, including the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. and the American Indian Heritage Center, Tulsa.

“My most prestigious awards are my patrons. Those are the highest awards an artist can have.”

Artesian Arts Festival Artist Talks

A live paint by distinguished Chickasaw artist Mike Larsen will kick off the Artist Talks at 10:30 a.m. in the ARTesian Art Gallery, May 27. Other noteworthy artists giving demonstrations and discussing their craft include: Jimmie Harrison, Venaya Yazzie, Daniel Worcester, Kimberly Ponca, Buddy Parchcorn, J. Nicole Hatfield, Tyra Shackleford and Josy Thomas.

The Artesian Art Gallery is located at 100 W. Muskogee in downtown Sulphur, Oklahoma.

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