Native artist paints her experience

 

By Teri Vance

Topaz Jones grew up hearing a story about her grandfather working cattle with a bunch of ranch hands near the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in Owyhee, where her family is from. As the story goes, one of the men went to check out a body of water nearby. As he approached, he could hear a baby crying. The cries got louder and louder the closer he got. Alarmed, he tossed his lasso into the water. “When he did that, he got pulled in,” Jones recalled. “It freaked him out so bad that he jumped on his horse and ran all the way back to camp.”  Her grandfather explained the Native American lore about babies who live in the water.

“If you ever hear a baby in the water, stay away,” he told them. Jones brought that story to life in her painting, “Where the Water Babies Grow,” depicting a riderless horse, a rope dangling in the water and babies beneath the surface. “I had a teacher who told me, ‘Paint what you know,’” Jones said. “I always try to think of my own experience.” Even the name of the painting comes from a phrase she heard her great-aunt use. “She brought me some sweet grass once and said, ‘I picked this where the water babies grow,’” Jones recalled. While this painting is a literal depiction of her Western Shoshone heritage, most of her work is more symbolic.

 

“I’m definitely a contemporary artist,” she explained. “I don’t do traditional Native artwork. When I create my work, I think a bit about where people left off with designs and painting, and I incorporate that. I think about evolving it forward, using tradition as a source of inspiration then adding to it.” Her paintings were part of the original display at the Carson City Visitors Bureau, 716 N. Carson St., as part of the Great Basin Native Artists exhibit. The two-part exhibit kicked off in February with the first group of five artists. The second set of artists is now on display. Jones grew up with artistic parents, but both had all but given up their pursuits by the time she was born. But they recognized the genes had been passed down to her. “I was always drawing,” she said. “I was always shy.

I didn’t do sports and I kept to myself a lot, just doing art. They knew I had a talent.” Her father encouraged her to attend the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe, where she now lives. She and her fiance, Daniel McCoy, are both contemporary Native American artists and involve their children in what they do. “My children are my world,” she said. “I grew up in powwow so I do that with my children. I make their regalia.” In addition to painting, Jones is also into sculpture, print making, photography and bead work. “Everything I do in my life is about Native people, Native culture and Native life,” Jones said. “I’m always working with my people and my culture. My artwork is an expression of that.”