Shortly after moving to Princeton, Kentucky in 2004, I began taking Cherokee Language classes for personal enrichment. I knew I was of Cherokee Indian descent, and wanted to learn more about this part of my ancestry. I simply thought it would be fun, unaware of how it would drastically alter my artistic path. In my first lesson, it became clear to me that I would somehow use this language in my art. Now, 13 years later, it has infused itself into every part of my art and my life.
As I attempted to learn the Cherokee language, I had difficulty memorizing the new words and had an especially hard time memorizing the unique syllabary alphabet. Each of the 85 letter characters in Cherokee represents a unique sound of the deeply complex language. I eventually found that when I used the title of my paintings to describe the subject, I could remember the words. I started with merely naming what was simply portrayed in the painting. Now, whenever possible, I tell a story with the painting and pass on the Cherokee stories, myths and history that I have learned.
The Cherokee language is in danger of extinction. Only an estimated 8,000 people speak Cherokee, and most of those fluent Cherokee speakers are over the age of 50. The Cherokee language will die out within a few generations if something is not done. Language is very important to preserving a culture. Many words which are descriptive of cultural mannerisms, feelings, events, and ceremonies are only identifiable in the native tongue. There often is no comparable word in the English language. Furthermore, many prayers and sacred ceremonies are passed down only through the Cherokee language.
I have made a conscious and deliberate effort in each painting to use bright and contemporary colors. My intent is to bring this ancient language into our modern world and show its ongoing relevance. For my painting surface, I use 1.5" deep gallery-wrapped canvas due to its clean, modern appearance. When displayed, each painting has an information card next to it, explaining the title of the painting in English and Cherokee, the translation, and what inspired me to paint it. When sold, each painting comes with an information sheet attached to the back of it, so that the language and stories are passed on.