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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


June 15, 2002 - Issue 63


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Red Earth Judge Tells Stories with Art

by Matthew Price The Oklahoman
credits: Photo of Michael Horse courtesy Suzanne Westerly

It's no surprise Michael Horse's first love is storytelling through art.

Throughout his career, Horse has found ways to tell stories of his people. Though the American Indian activist has found success as an actor, musician and voice-over talent, Horse will turn his attention to his first love this weekend.

Horse is judging the art competition at the Red Earth Festival. The annual celebration runs today through Sunday at the Cox Convention Center.

Horse will also attend the three-day Art Market to exhibit his works, including ledger art, in which tales of the Indian lifestyle are painted or drawn onto period papers.

Horse, who is of Yanqui, Zuni and Mescalero Apache descent, is perhaps best-known to TV viewers as deputy Tommy "Hawk" Hill on the David Lynch series "Twin Peaks."

Horse said he enjoyed his time on the show, which he called "groundbreaking."

"Without 'Twin Peaks,' there would have been no 'Northern Exposure,' 'Picket Fences,' 'X- Files' or 'Alias.' It started the movement of 'off-center' television."

Horse liked that his character was intuitive, funny, and had a family, something that's often missing for Indian characters on-screen.

Horse is also proud of his work on the Canadian TV series "North of 60," for which he appeared in three of the show's seven seasons.

Horse played the therapist Andrew One Sky on the prime time drama set on a reservation in the Northwest Territory.

"It's not about Indians, it's about people," Horse said. "People struggling with their families."

Horse said that overall he's disappointed with the US film industry's parts for Indians.

"It's just not very well- written," he said. "You get Geronimo, the dysfunctional family and Pocahontas."

Horse said he sees himself as primarily an artist, rather than an actor.

"I've always thought of myself primarily as an artist, it's what I most define myself as. The acting was all an accident."

Horse and his wife both make jewelry. Horse is also a practitioner of "ledger art."

Horse's finely crafted jewelry, carvings, paintings and ledger art have been exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, The Heard Museum in Phoenix, Bonwit Teller in New York and in galleries around the world.

Horse said originally Indians would paint tales of their lives on buffalo hide. But as buffalo became more scarce, the Indians adapted, using whatever was handy to record stories.

Ledger paper, maps, love letters, military papers, arrest records -- anything might become art.

Horse uses original pre-1900 documents to create his art.

"I knew that this was my history, coming from my point of view," he said.

In the past six or seven years, Horse said, there's been an increase in attention paid to ledger art

"It's definitely storytelling," he said. "I put my mindset back in those days and kind of make up something.

"Sometimes the papers are so fascinating, I make up something that ties into it."

Horse said the pictures were intended to tie into the Indian tradition of storytelling.

"We're an oral society -- the paintings were kind of a reminder to the oral storyteller."

Horse, who performed as a studio musician during the 1970s, also provides voice-over talent for cartoons like "Superman," "Batman" and "Captain Planet."

"Cartoons are probably my favorite thing to do," he said.

"You never come home depressed from a cartoon job."

Horse said he is working on a documentary on the history of Indian veterans. It will cover the Revolutionary War to the present.

Horse said he expects to finish the documentary by next year.

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Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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