Michael Horse: Portraits of a People

This is an older article, but it may give a little new information about how deputy Blackwood is going to interact with the alien trio in the future.

From LA Times
Friday, September 10, 1999
Valley Life

Portraits of a People

Native American artist Michael Horse conjures up new images of the old days.


With a featured role in a new TV series and a new art show about to open, it’s a busy fall for Michael Horse, North Hollywood’s Renaissance man and Native American trickster.

Tall, lanky, characteristically garbed in blue denim, sporting a heavy silver and jade bracelet and dangling jade earrings with long, gray hair and buffalo-nickel features, Horse carries himself with stern presence of the classic stoic, unsmiling Indian–until he begins to run off strings of one-liners.

“I’m working on a new series,” he deadpans. “It’s called ‘Touched by an Anglo.’ ”

Actually, he’ll be in The WB’s “Roswell,” a new drama about three teenagers trying to pass for normal when, in fact, they are descendants of space aliens whose UFO crashed in New Mexico in 1947. Horse plays Deputy Blackwood, a near-mystical character who senses something unusual about the youngsters.

Series executive producer Jason Katims is a fan of Horse’s portrayal of preternaturally insightful Deputy Hill in David Lynch’s eccentric 1990-91 ABC series “Twin Peaks.”

“Deputy Blackwood knows more than he lets on,” said Katims. “Michael gives the show some weight. He brings some authentic Native American presence of the Southwest.”

Indeed, Horse’s forebears are from the Zuni, Mescelero Apache and the free-spirited Yaui tribes. He was born into a traditional Indian household outside Tucson and moved to Los Angeles as a boy. He has lived in his ranch-style North Hollywood home for 12 years.

Juggling a TV and film career with his trade as a jeweler, he invokes Native American themes in works of gold and semiprecious stones that have landed in places like the Smithsonian Institution and Manhattan’s Bonwit Teller.

His personality–an intriguing blend of Indian and European values and attitudes–is expressed in paintings in the exhibition “Images of the People: A Pictorial Journey” that opens Sept. 17 at the Southwest Museum/LACMA West.

Horse’s third major installation in four years at the Southwest–one of the nation’s leading Native American cultural institutions–showcases some of his most recent ledger paintings.

Such works originated after the Civil War, when imprisoned Indians, mostly from the Plains tribes, were given pencils, watercolors, bookkeeping paper and encouragement to draw to relieve their tedium, said Chief Curator Kathy Whitaker.


Images of remarkable passion emerged from numerous artists, she said, as they adapted pictorial styles of animals and cultural icons commonly seen on tepees and animal hides in their villages. Typical of the notable early ledger artists was a Cheyenne warrior from Oklahoma named Howling Wolf, who was held at Ft. Marion, Fla. He captured vivid battle scenes and colorful portraits of family members in traditional dress. The style was taken up by other artists and seems to have persisted into the 1940s.

“I started doing these for myself,” Horse said. “Once in a while I’d draw dancers at a powwow, once in a while I would sell one of them, but the last four or five years there has been a real interest in ledger art. The old ones are going for thousands.”

The Southwest/LACMA staff sold several Michael Horse originals earlier this year to visitors drawn by the Van Gogh exhibit across the hall.

An article in the September issue of Cowboys and Indians magazine points out that Horse is one of the few artists painting in the original style, as well as on authentic old documents.

He paints traditional wedding ceremonies on old marriage licenses, and thundering locomotives and hunters galloping after panicked buffalo on old railroad manifestoes.

He paints warriors in battle on old U.S. Army maps. The old papers, which he obtains from a network of collectors he has developed, tell a story. Often, he can overlay a relatable narrative expression.

“This is our pictorial history, our written language, literature,” Horse said. “Elders have told me these are about times of glory. Some people say they’re violent, but I say it’s about heroism, about facing your fears.”

Museum curator Whitaker said the appeal of Horse’s work seems rather obvious.

“Native Americans are always portrayed as stoic and unsmiling,” she said. “Michael defrays that thought process with a sense of energy and goodwill. I appreciate his sense of humor. He puts a twinkle in all those little eyes.”

Along with the warriors and hunters, he enjoys painting native men in tribal regalia driving Cadillacs through Beverly Hills with their poodles.

For a director on his new TV show, he created a special work. On an 1890s real estate announcement for Roswell, N.M., he painted a pair of young Native American women gazing at the sky in wonderment–at a flying saucer.


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