Rance Hood: Mystic Painter by Rance Hood and James J. Hester, University of New Mexico Press. 176 pages, 71 color plates, 138 color photos, 18 halftones, 1 line drawing, 1 map, $39.95 hardback. Collectors edition with an original drawing by Hood, signed by the artist and dated March 2008 are available at Rain Dance Gallery, 945 Main Ave., along with paintings and prints by Hood.
“Palo Duro Holocaust” is a mural painted at Comanche tribal headquarters of a battle where American soldiers burned the Comanche camps and killed more than 2,000 horses in Palo Duro Canyon near present day Amarillo, Texas.
“Coup Stick Song” (1980) originally a 40 by 30 in. watercolor and a lithograph in an edition of 1,500. This image was recently commissioned by the guitarist Carlos Santana and will appear on his new album.
Rance Hood has been considered the most successful Plains Indian artist for 40 years. Like R.C. Gorman, Hood was one of the first American Indian artists to market and control the distribution of his work.
James J. Hester, professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Colorado, and co-author with Hood of Rance Hood: Mystic Painter , ranks the painter, along with Gorman and Fritz Scholder, as the three top American Indian artists.
The book has a simple and elegant layout. The foreword by John R. Rohner is well-written. Unfortunately, the introduction by Indian historian Joan Frederick and the biography by Hester add little to what is summarized by Rohner in a few pages.
Frederick seems to talk around what she really wants to say.
“Some tales, of course, are too wild for a dignified publication of this nature, so I will refrain from the whole truth, but suffice it to say, that Rance Hood is one in a million,” Frederick writes.
Hester’s writing is simplistic and formulaic. He has an annoying habit of ending each chapter with a sentence about what is in the next chapter. And the essay features more quotes and supplemental material by others than original narrative.
The book opens with the fascinating story of Hood’s childhood. The son of a white father and Comanche mother, Hood was raised by his maternal grandparents in Oklahoma. He grew up speaking Comanche before learning English. His grandfather taught him the peyote religion. His grandmother did beadwork and decorated buckskin with traditional tribal symbols.
Hester spends a scant three pages on this biographical story, choosing instead to write an anthropological essay focusing Chapter 2 on the history of Native American painting in Oklahoma and Chapter 3 on Comanche culture and history, including the peyote religion.
The most interesting parts of the book are the artist in his own words. These are found throughout and include a personal statement in the introductory pages, Chapter 6, which is Hood talking about his art and his heritage, and the 71 pages of color plates that include a comment from Hood about each work.
In his personal statement, Hood writes:
“Why do I paint what I paint? I paint for the old people and try to keep the old ways alive. I just want to be known as a good artist who remembers the old ways as they were long ago. I wish I lived in that period of time.”
Hood writes about medicine and magic, about the supernatural power given him by his grandfather, saying: “If the battle scenes are wild, it’s because I go back to be in the actual battles. I become a warrior of long ago.”
For Hood, a painting is merely a symbol of something that happens within, something influenced by voices and visions. A painting is a communication from the soul. And that’s all one needs to understand before flipping through the color plates and thumbnail catalog of work that includes early sketches and a significant number of Hood’s watercolor and acrylic paintings, lithographs and gicl`ees from 1960s through 2005.
For Hood it is simple: “My painting style explains itself,” he writes. “I am Comanche.”
email@example.com Leanne Goebel is a freelance arts journalist from Pagosa Springs.