Artist uses work to share cultural insights


By Teri Vance

Although inspired by his Paiute and Arapaho heritage, Topah Spoonhunter’s artwork is intended for a broader audience. “The ideas passed down through tribal culture, I think a lot of people might dismiss as primitive,” he said. “But in my experience there’s a lot of knowledge that’s useful today. The spirit of my work can apply to anybody.” Spoonhunter, 34, grew up on the Big Pine Paiute Reservation in California where he still lives and creates his work. His artwork consists of a process.

“I start with just an idea,” he explained. “Depending on what that is, I may have to research it or look at different concepts.” The first step in the creation is a pencil drawing. “Once I get it to the level I want it to be at, I do a final sketch,” he said. “I’ll ink it.” The inked drawing is then scanned into the computer. “I use Photoshop to clean up the lines or add color for the final image,” he explained.


He sells his creations online and at different shows and powwows. Pieces of his graphic designs, as well a painting on a skateboard, are included in the The Great Basin Native Artists show on display at the Carson City Visitors Bureau, 716 N. Carson St., through June 19. Spoonhunter, who works for Inyo County Health and Human Services, also sells his artwork in the form of T-shirts, prints and stickers. But that wasn’t always the case. “As long as I can remember, I was always drawing something,” he said. “I never took it too seriously. It was just something I did.”

After graduating from Haskell University where he played basketball and earned a business degree, he started to see design not only as an economic opportunity but a way to share his culture with the world. “My ancestors had a very good understanding of the natural world, about people and how society’s work. There’s a balance in nature,” he said. “As humans, it’s our responsibility to make sure the balance continues, not just for nature’s sake but for our own. Native people understood that what happens to the Earth happens to us. That is something I like to portray in my work.” He often finds himself drawn to depicting animals.



“As Native people, they had a really strong connection with plants and animals,” he said. “My ancestors learned from animals. They depended on animals for life, but animals have their own wisdom. In a way, they may be more wise than we are in the way they live their lives.” He feels a calling to use his art as a way to promote his culture to serve humanity. “My parents always did what they could to help people and make things better,” he said. “It’s something they instilled in me. It’s my obligation to make things better, and it’s something I do with my work. “I hope people who see my work are inspired to live a better life and maybe make a better world.”


For more information about the Great Basin Native Artists, go to greatbasinnativeartists.com.

Order Topah Spoonhunter’s merchandise at twodogsandabear.com.