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Artist boldy paints respect to Native Americans
by Cortney Maddock
Mar 06, 2008 | 3241 views | 0 0 comments | 29 29 recommendations | email to a friend | print
<a href= mailto:norme@dailysparkstribune.com>Tribune/Nathan Orme</a> - Sparks artist Mike Hess, a retired biologist, recreates old portraits of Native American chiefs using bright colors. His paintings are on display at the Spanish Springs Library all month.
Tribune/Nathan Orme - Sparks artist Mike Hess, a retired biologist, recreates old portraits of Native American chiefs using bright colors. His paintings are on display at the Spanish Springs Library all month.
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Weather-worn faces and bright colors intricately painted on canvas adorn the walls of the Spanish Springs Library. Sparks artist Mike Hess has infused life into the century-old black and white photographs of who he believes are influential Native Americans.

The exhibit, which is a series of paintings called “Warriors of the Little Bighorn,” was born out of Hess’ fascination with the historical battle known as Custer's Last Stand. The battle took place over two days in June 1876 and was considered a major victory for the Lakota tribe after the warriors defeated Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer's army.

"The art shows their side of the battle," Hess said of the paintings. "They were people protecting their families."

Hess said he did more than a year of research, which included visiting the battle site, buying multiple books on the topics and tracking down photographs of more than 15 Native Americans, including Kicking Bear, Eagle Elk and Black Elk.

Hess said Black Elk was painted especially for the Spanish Springs Artist of the Month exhibit.

"The paint was barely dry when I took it out there," Hess said.

The photographs Hess found where either black and white or in sepia tones. The details in the faces stuck out to Hess and he captured that in his boldly painted portraits.

"They have faces with a lot of character in them," Hess said. "Their dignity and pride show in their faces."

Portrait painting was a new forte for Hess, who usually paints landscapes, but he found that he was a natural talent.

"The paints exactly match the photos," Hess said.

Hess, 65, is a retired biologist who wanted to reconnect with his artistic side after retiring in 1999.

"I've been an artist my whole life, "Hess said. "I was encouraged as a child to draw and use color."

Hess recalls having a shoe box filled with a rainbow of Crayola crayons.

"I love color," Hess said. "I paint in vibrant colors every chance I get. I use bold colors to project pride and life."

Hess hits exhibit goers with vibrant colors that make the paints look like something reminiscent of an Andy Warhol print. The bold paintings have received a warm response from library visitors who have commented on the colorful display.

"We're getting a favorable response," said manager of operations Jessica Edelson.

Edelson said library patrons have told staff that they enjoy the bright colorful art.

While the pieces are visually appealing, Hess wanted to draw attention to the historical value of the paintings, as well.

"These Indians were peaceful at the time," Hess explained. "The U.S. Army attacked them."

Hess will admit that he had no intentions of making a political statement with the paints but understands people might find one.

"My intention was to give reverence and respect to the Native America history," Hess said. "We have to recognizing there were people here before us."

Hess's exhibit will be on display at the Spanish Springs Library until the end of March. The library is located at 7100A Pyramid Highway.

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