colors are deeply sacred to the Utes black, yellow, white
The colors are commonly found in the "stylized symbolism" that
Ute Mountain Ute artist Norman Lancing incorporates into his paintings
and etched vases that seek to turn historic wounds into today's
"Art is a powerful tool of expression for us," Lansing said.
"It goes back to ancient times, it goes back to the basics of our
Despite the historic and rooted nature of homemade arts, crafts
and wares, Southern Ute tribal member Elise Redd said few Utes have
shared their precious creations with the world in recent years the
way Lansing and his also-artistic daughter, Babe, have. Ute artists
tend to keep their crafts in the family.
"It's hard work," said Southern Ute tribal member Denise Thompson
of most artistic Ute creations. "Why sell it?"
Redd said the dwindling number of Utes learning about and producing
traditional garments, art pieces, jewelry and beading projects is
symbolic of the larger challenges they face in preserving their
But the recent opening of the Southern Ute Cultural Center and
Museum has helped to ignite some renewed interest in the arts, crafts
and wares that once were a critical part of the nomadic tribe's
survival, said Redd, who leads a Southern Ute member-based group
art, sewing, beading and cooking classes are now held in the tribe's
multi-purpose building, where sewing machines and materials are
made available to all tribal members. And the classes are drawing
members of all ages, Redd said. A recent beading class drew elder
tribal members, young mothers and even a few boys of middle school
"They were really good at it," Redd said of the boys' first
try at adorning a pair moccasins with beads as small as a pinhead.
Redd believes it's an important step toward preserving the tribe's
historic practices of creating detailed garments, beaded moccasins
and cradle boards. The hand-crafted items last generations, said
Thompson, who was sitting at a sewing machine in the multi-purpose
building on a recent day, working on a quilt. Thompson, who teaches
native language and culture to Southern Ute children, is among those
who attend Redd's monthly art sessions.
Like the tribes' oral storytelling traditions, their arts and
handmade garments historically were used to teach lessons and tell
stories across generational lines, Thompson said.
For instance, the sacred colors often used in Lansing's work
symbolize the four directions and the circle of life, Thompson,
Redd and Lansing said. Medicine wheels, pipes, bears and buffaloes
also hold great meaning and frequently are visible on Ute wares,
such as hand-beaded moccasins and shawls, the trio said.
In Lansing's work, the message shared often is one of Native
Americans' spiritual connectedness and the burden many Utes believe
they carry in protecting the Earth, animals and environment.
"I want our people to understand how important the environment
and spiritualism is to our culture," Lansing said. "The Earth is
sick, and people are causing it. I can give the gift of awareness
so future generations can carry it on and make changes."