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(Many Paths)
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Comanche Artist Completes Tepee
by Scott Rains - Native American Times

Tepee to become permanent part of museum collection

LAWTON, Okla. – Art is as much a part of Quanah Parker Burgess' life as the Comanche blood that fills his veins.

"I've been an artist all my life," Burgess, 33, said; his eyes never looking away from the straight line of acrylic paint gliding from paintbrush to canvas.

"I'm always going to do it," he said. "I enjoy it."

Burgess' work-in-progress is completed and is a special piece for the "New Beginnings: Artists of Comanche Heritage" exhibition at the Comanche Nation Museum and Cultural Center, 701 NW Ferris. The canvas used for his masterpiece is a little larger than the works you'll find on the walls inside the museum gallery. Burgess' newest piece covers 18-feet of canvas for a tepee, along with a painted pony and buffalo fixed nearby, that will greet museum visitors.

The tip top of the tepee is black with speckles of light and looks like an Oklahoma prairie night sky; underneath, white waves of buffalo cover the sky blue backdrop. Cast over the expanse of material are silhouettes of the iconic ledger-style Plains horseman in pursuit of the American Bison. The red border that rests near the earth is decorated by painted buffalo hoof-prints. Every image from an un-wasted brush stroke is a reminder of the UN-wasted bison's importance to the Comanche people.

Burgess said the tepee's design combines traditional and modern styles, techniques, and mental approaches. The project took a little more than three weeks to complete from his temporary studio space in the museum's storeroom.

"I appreciate them letting me work back here. It's so big, I don't know where I'd work on it otherwise," Burgess said.

Museum Director Phyllis Wahahrockah-Tasi said Burgess' tepee was commissioned by the museum and will become part of its permanent collection. Burgess is a great example of the museum's mission to promote Comanche artists, exemplified by the "New Beginnings" exhibit, she said.

"He's a young man getting his name out there; that's what we're partly here for – to get these artist's names out," Wahahrockah-Tasi said.

The tepee centerpiece is a large-scale Comanche horseman, lance in hand, astride a pony in full sprint. Elements of the piece are reminiscent of Doc Tate Nevaquaya's natural linear perfection. Burgess mixes styles that are both traditional and cutting-edge, his color choices and activity reminiscent of Rance Hood. He said his "flat style" is borne from the old ledger histories of the Plains tribes, combined with elements of the Kiowa 5 and other noted Native American artists.

"I'm part of some younger artists that are putting our own twist on things," Burgess said. "This is what I like to do."

The large-scale tepee is Burgess' first attempt at such a large piece; he's painted small-scale tepees but this has been something new. "It's tough to proportion," he said.

Burgess said his real direction as an artist stems from encouragement received while attending Cameron in 1997.

"I didn't care too much for more than the arts." He said his art professor, Katherine Liontas-Warren, encouraged him to continue developing and growing as an artist. He also studied other artists for information and inspiration.

"She's the best art teacher I ever had," Burgess said. "She gave me the self-assurance and confidence I needed to take the leap."

Burgess "supplied up" and began working. "I talked to my dad (Ron Burgess, also an artist) and he said, ‘You've got to treat it like a job; it takes discipline to be the best artist you can be."'

In the years since, Burgess' education has come through experience. His style has become his signature and his business acumen developed over the ensuing decade; he's begun to receive recognition from his peers and elders in the art world. His 3-month-old son and 17-month-old daughter are his incentives to make sales and earn a living as an artist, he said. He said his art studio is a long time coming and is almost completed at his home outside of Apache.

"The business side is something you have to get out there and learn. It's kind of an art itself," Burgess said. "It feels good to finally step to the ‘next level,' but I don't take anything for granted."

Burgess began making prints of his work for sale at the American Indian Exposition. Now, his art shows and sells at the Santa Fe, N.M., art market and at Red Earth in Oklahoma City. From humble beginnings, he said "things are starting to develop.

"It always amazes me when people tell me the places they've seen my work," Burgess said. "That's pretty cool."

Burgess credits his momentum to his faith in his abilities, his art, and in the Creator.

"In the beginning, when I was a starving artist, something always came up when I needed it most," Burgess said. "I always give thanks to the Creator, He always provided.

"For me, painting has a spiritual connection," Burgess said. "Artists can't help but create. That's the gift."

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