Arizona Indian Living Treasures Awards

To Honor the Cultures of Arizona Native American Tribes

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Urshel Taylor


by Ed Severson
The Arizona Daily Star (1998)

Indian to be honored for artistry, cultural work
The blood of two tribes flows into Urshel Taylor's art.

Today, Taylor was to be recognized for his lifetime artistic contributions and his efforts to preserve and revitalize the culture of the Akimel Au-Authm.

Honorees also are chosen because they are held in esteem both inside and outside their tribal communities.

The governor's office will present the awards at the Pueblo Grande Museum in Phoenix.

"I don't like to get bored, so I keep changing the style and materials," said Taylor, 61, who has worked with a variety of materials, including oils, acrylics and wood.

Taylor was raised on the Ute Reservation in northern Utah near the Colorado border.

His mother was an Akimel Au-Authm, formerly know as Pima.

The Akimel Au-Authm - "The River People" - have lived for centuries along the Salt and Gila rivers.

Taylor said that hundreds of years ago the Akimel Au-Authm and Tohono O'odham, who live west of Tucson - "The Desert People" - were one tribe.

"They do understand each other somewhat, but it's like (an American) talking to an Australian," he said.

Taylor, who organizes and dances in powwows on the Ute Reservation, moves freely back and forth between his Ute and Akimel Au-Authm heritages.

"Up in Utah, I'm a Ute; and down here, I'm a Pima," Taylor said. "I joke that I jump across the fence.

Taylor has been an artist off and on all of his life.

"I've done everything from hauling trash to teaching school," he said.

Now art is his profession.

"What that means is that you live on your income from art," he said.

He has exhibited his work regularly at the Santa Fe Indian Market, which annually attracts more than 700 Indian artists.

He is renowned for his Northern Traditional Dancer dolls.

The realistic 2-foot-high figures, which are carved out of black walnut or red cedar, are clothed in beaded buckskins and elaborate feather work and fetch $4,000 apiece.

For six years in a row at Santa Fe, they were awarded first place in the sculpture category.

He also has created a series of carved figures that he calls Hohokam dolls.

According to the story that Taylor has made up for them, the Hohokams died and were buried.

As trees grew around them, they were lifted back onto the earth.

"If I take a tree limb and carve it out, there he is, back on the earth again," Taylor said.

One such figure, carved from wood that he imported from Mexico, is of a tall slender, El Greco-like Indian woman with a basket that holds a single piece of turquoise.

A number of his acrylic paintings pay tribute to his mother, who died suddenly as she was bringing her son a basket that his grandmother had given to her.

That basket - now in the living room of his far-northside home - emerges from the fiery, spirit-like image in one of his paintings.

Martin Kim, a marketing specialist with the Arizona State Museum, calls Taylor's images potent.

"As a painter, he's very politically conscious," he said.

In one large painting, which Taylor insists he will never sell, he depicts the famous scene of Marine raising the flag on Iwo Jima during World War II.

Taylor painted Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian who helped raise the flag, in Indian garb.

"A lot of people see it and ask why I put an Indian in it," Taylor said.

Akimel O'otham

Previous AILTA Recipients

Malinda Powskey
Craft: language master, Storyteller
Tribe: Hualapai
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