fig. 20: Jean Bad Moccasin
Photograph by Stanley Szewczyk.

JEAN BAD MOCCASIN

Born in Europe in 1947, far from the lands once traveled by her Lakota-Sioux ancestors, Jean Bad Moccasin has struggled to reconcile the many different aspects of her ancestry. Today, she revives her Sioux heritage through innovative, colorfully painted designs, featuring recognizable Indian and Anglo motifs.

Descendants of one of the largest groups of migratory Indians of the northwestern United States, Jean's family wandered further than most; she was born in a refugee camp in Hanover, Germany, in 1947, to a Lakota-Ukrainian mother and a Ukrainian father. Her maternal grandfather, Bad Moccasin, was a member of the Hunkpapa branch of the Lakota nation who traveled with Sitting Bull to Europe as part of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Her grandfather remained in Europe and married Jean's maternal grandmother.

Jean's family migrated to the United States in 1951, settling in North Dakota and later moving to Chicago. Jean says that she found it difficult to empathize with so-called Anglo culture and remained a loner. It was not until some years later that her mother revealed to her her own American Indian heritage. After a disastrous marriage and several personal tragedies, she remarried again, has two daughters, and now lives with her family in Spring Grove, Illinois. When Jean finally realized her Indian heritage, she became obsessed with learning about it and now assiduously attends powwow dances and various ceremonials in her home area.

fig. 21: Two Nations Vase, front and back, 1996.
By Jean Bad Mocassin. Polychrome; 16.5x11.25" dia.
Collection of the artist. Photograph by Stanley Szewczyk.

Jean studied books about southwestern pueblo pottery and "felt a compulsion to paint Indian designs." Using a commercial clay, she started out by hand-building her own simple round forms with "kiva-step" openings and low, flat, oval shapes with no openings. A hobby shop's electric kiln and commercial, matte-surfaced underglaze colors with no glaze coating amplified her early efforts. To perfect the hand-formed surface, she used the traditional Indian technique of stone burnishing, but then added a superfine solution of watery clay called terra sigillata (as did the ancient Greeks) and repolished the surface for a better background for drawing.

With a grand sense of design, Jean's colorful painting parodying traditional Indian symbols or recognizable Anglo institutions - Indians refer to all non-Indian cultures as Anglo - has become the trademark that attracts her collectors. She is working from the tradition (but not in the tradition) of American Indian pottery.

fig. 22: Kiva-step vase, 1993, by Jean Bad Moccasin.
Polychrome; 10.5"x11.25" dia.
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. William Freeman.
Photograph by Craig Smith.

 

Jean has been adopted by a Dakota spiritual teacher. As his daughter she has enjoyed the pleasure of his wisdom. Jean is finishing a bachelor's degree at Columbia College in Illinois with a major in clinical psychology, so that she can help with the many serious problems of the Indians in her community on and off the reservation.

The tribal history that was denied her in her childhood is being realized on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where she and her children spend summers so that they can all be included in the language and customs of their people. She expects to move nearer to the tribal community with her children in the near future. Jean's art may become more serious, influenced by this move, but my guess is that her sprightly drawings will retain their whimsical and personal touch.

"In life there must be a balance. Balance expresses the duality of all creations, that of the body and that of the spirit. One is a mirror image of the other. When there is a balance there is harmony. When there is harmony true beauty exists," declares this young artist, balancing herself on the fringe of two cultures.

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Nora Naranjo-Morse


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All text © Susan Peterson.
Edited by Susan Ressler, based on compilation
© 1997 Abbeville Press and The National Museum of Women in the Arts.