Horse may be best known as an accomplished actor but
it's a career he fell into. A lifelong artist,
from a talented family of jewelers, potters and painters,
Horse was renting a studio from an agent in Los Angeles
when the agent cajoled, begged and, ultimately, convinced
him to take the part of ‘Tonto' in the 1980 remake
of The Lone Ranger. "Terrible film," he laughs, "but
I learned very quickly that it's always in the writing." It
was the writing he's still proud of with his roles in
both "Twin Peaks" and the Canadian series "North
of 60." But with many films also on his resume,
it's still artwork that best defines Michael Horse.
Of Yaqui, Mescalero Apache,
Zuni, European and Hispanic descent, Horse was born on
the Pascua Yaqui reservation south of Tucson and moved
as a child to Los Angeles when his grandfather was sent
there as part of the relocation programs. Horse remembers
it as a culturally rich environment, one that taught
him how important art was to the human spirit. "Art
is one of the ways that native people celebrate and relate
to their culture, their religion and to nature - it is
a gift," he explains. "Art teaches us beauty,
humility and humor. You cannot be a healthy human being
without art and music in your life."
A jeweler for over thirty years,
Horse moves between traditional and contemporary styles,
enjoying the relationship between the two. The remarkably
detailed silver katsinas he creates can seem a perfect
blend of the old and the modern but they were, in fact,
inspired by katsina jewelry made in the 1940's, styles
that Horse now beautifully recreates in rings, bolos,
earrings, and pendants.
As a painter Horse has brought
reinvigorated inspiration to the traditional Native American
style of "ledger art." In the reservation era,
as the practice of painting on buffalo hides became impossible,
readily available took its place with various scrap papers
such as book pages, old letters, maps and ledger books
becoming background for visual recollections of heroic
battles, scenes of ceremony, hunting and daily life. Newer
implements such as crayons, colored pencils and water-colors
allowed for a new breadth of detail. This traditional folk
art was very free-flowing, Horse points out, incorporating
symbols and movement, almost like a film scene with images
leading right off the pages in a very uncontained style.
Having had the opportunity to see many of the old, original
ledger drawings through his work with museums, Horse explains
its pull on him:
"I knew this was my history book, coming from my point
This is the inspiration that
feeds Horse as he recreates ledger art today, bringing
added depth to his pieces by painting vivid scenes on
authentic "canvases" of that earlier era, such
as old maps, land treaties from Indian Territory, Hudson's
Bay trading correspondence, period newspapers and Cavalry
papers; a Santa Fe Railroad claim adjusters record becomes
the backdrop to a scene of thundering buffalo and mounted
hunters, bows and lances drawn, all racing parallel to
a railroad car rolling imperiously by. Horse makes a
point of seeking out pre-1960s watercolor sets to capture
the richly standardized hues of that early era. His images
are rich in traditional symbols such as the human hand
print frequently seen painted on war ponies; for Horse
this "coup mark"
represents the facing of any adversity with strength and
Horse never runs out of inspiration.
While nature and spirituality are constant influences
in all of his work he also draws energy from non-Native
artists such as Picasso and Michelangelo, and is deeply
inspired by political artists such as Diego Rivera. Horse's
work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution
in Washington D.C. and The Heard Museum in Phoenix, AZ.
A 30-year retrospective of his work, "Dreams of
Horses - The collected works of Michael Horse" was
shown at Los Angeles's Southwest Museum in 1997 and many
other museum shows also stand to his credit.
Michael Horse is also a man
who cares deeply about today's youth: he has worked with
the American Diabetes Association in a project called "Awakening
tackling the Juvenile Type 2 diabetes epidemic on reservations.
And along with providing information programs and fundraisers,
he has also worked with Indian gang kids, taking them on
10-14 day horseback rides in a demanding outdoor program.