"........a viewer approaches a painting. The painting greets the viewer. The space between the painting and the viewer is where the spirit world lives. That small space separates us." -Virginia Stroud
Of Cherokee and Creek descent, Virginia Alice Stroud was born March 13, 1951 in Madera, California. She was educated in public schools in California and Oklahoma, and graduated from Muskogee Central High School in 1969. Virginia attended Bacone Junior College from 1969-1970 and the University of Oklahoma, 1971-73, summer 1975, and 1976-77, majoring in elementary education and art.
Over the past thirty years, Virginia Stroud has established herself as a leading contemporary Native American artist and has compiled an impressive record in the process. The above quote typifies her concept of aesthetic values and the objectives she attempts to achieve in her paintings. Her objectives are and methodology is further exemplified when she states, "As an artist I touch the human chord that erases the multicultural boundaries and ask the viewer to look for the familiar and not the differences of humanity."
Continuing in the earliest traditional painting style, she does not paint the facial features, and individual identity passes into the background. Characters are recognized by their clothing and their identities are established by their roles. This is especially true of the Native American women whose " role as caretaker, nurturer, gatherer and spiritual instructor remained the same, handed down from one generation of daughters to another." Identity is established by what is familiar to a culture, and the viewer is asked to both recognize the differences through identity and to overlook those differences, thereby enriching the spiritual world by minimizing the distance between themselves and the art.
"I paint for my people. Art is a way for our culture to survive...perhaps the only way. More than anything, I want to become an orator, to share with others the oldest of Indian traditions. I want people to look back at my work just like today we're looking back at the ledger drawings and seeing how it was then. I'm working one hundred years in front of those people and saying 'this is how we still do it...we still have our traditions.'"
Ledger art is traditionally a male American Indian pictographic art form, and historically has been characterized as such by researchers. Chronologically its stylistic development belongs to the the Proto-Modern era of the Native American Fine Arts Movement and was a major influence, through trade routes and the patronage of white art collectors, on Modern Indian Art as its elements diffused to the schools of New Mexico, Oklahoma, and the Northwest Coast. Its more explicit expression, however, yielded to the styles that developed in these schools and culminated in the early 1960's during a period of the Movement referred to as the First Generation Modernists. Only recently have the researchers of Ledger art recognized Virginia Stroud as the Native American Woman artist who, as a Second Generation Modernist and a member of the so-called "New Indian Art Movement", revitalized a traditionally male form of art expression with her pictographic images in the late 1960's to the early 1980's. Influence on Stroud's stylistic achievements can be attributed to her Kiowa upbringing centered in Oklahoma, which is the major geographic center of the Southern Plains school, and her attendance at Bacone under the direction and influence of Dr. Richard West.
Stroud has experienced a transitional phase in her stylistic development which progressed from the traditional earthy pictorial images of the early eighties to a more brilliant color schema that focuses on the roles of women and children in Native American culture, centering on the preservation of a lifestyle across generations. This transitional phase strongly coincides with the chronological division of the Second Generation Modernists stage of the Native American Fine Arts Movement, and the Post-modern or Contemporary stage. However one wishes to define this Post-modern stage, Stroud's contemporary work displays a bold sense of color, combining the elements of the prior generations of Modernists, retaining its traditional style. This later stage of Stroud's development has also produced works that are associated with Cherokee traditions and may be attributed to her Cherokee ancestry, but probably more importantly can be explained by a regional demand on her creativity by art patrons. There has also been experimentation during this phase with themes that are purely Southwestern, a phenomena indicative of art demand in the Post-modern era and her residency in the southwest during the transition to the Contemporary stage of the Native American Fine Arts Movement.
Virginia attributes a major influence in her art to the early encouragement of the late Dr. Richard West of Oklahoma, who schooled her in the history of ledger art and termed her knack for color combinations as innate, resembling that of Picasso. Her initial goals when entering college were to major in art education and teach art in either primary or secondary schools. The change in her career decision was due to the continual appraisal of her work by Dr. West who convinced her that she could make a living as a painter. Stroud also cites Native American artist Joann Hill as an inspiration, not artistically, but as an ideal of the Native American woman's place in the art world, and art restorator Amad Moghbel, as a major influence by introducing her to gouache techniques with rag paper and hand ground pigments. While Virginia is of Creek and Cherokee descent, she categorizes her art as more relevant to the plains tribes and her Kiowa upbringing.
In May 1970, she became the youngest Native American artist to receive first place honors in the Woodlands division of the 25th Annual American Indian Artists Exhibition at Philbrook Art Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In 1972, she won the Heritage Award at the Five Civilized Tribes Museum in Muskogee, Oklahoma. In 1975, Virginia again won a first place award at the 30th American Indian National Exhibition at the Philbrook Art Center, and spent the next year as an artist in residence for the city of Norman, Oklahoma. In 1978 her pictographic work "Enemy Treasures" won the award for graphics at the Heard Museum, and in 1982 was selected Artist of the Year by the Indian Arts and Crafts Association. Her most recent honors include the Woody Crumbo memorial award, Best of Show, Best Painting, and Best in the Traditional category at the 1992 Indian Market in Sante Fe.
A large collection of Virginia's artwork was recently (2003) included in the Smithsonian's archives of living artists and the Fred Jones, Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma. Her work has appeared on the cover of Oklahoma Today, Southwest Art, and in the first issue of Four Winds magazine. Her work was also illustrated in Indianische Kunst im 20 Jahrhundert, a German publication and in Beyond Tradition, Contemporary Indian Art and Its Evolution by Jerry and Lois Jacka, 1988.
Virginia has been honored in the past as Miss Cherokee Tribal Princess, 1969-70, Miss National Congress of American Indians, 1970-71, Miss Indian America, 1971, served on the Board of Directors of the Indian Arts and Crafts Association, and spent 1999 as a candidate for Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. In 1988 she began creating her painted furniture, and she has, in the past few years, authored, co-authored, and illustrated four books for children as well as extending her prolific talents to dollmaking. Her book, Doesn't Fall Off His Horse, was recognized as NCSS-CBC Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, IRA-CBC Children's Choice, and received the IRA Distinguished Book Award. Stroud's current projects include designing baby blankets and a baby journal for the American Indian College Fund.
Books illustrated by Virginia Stroud:
Doesn't Fall Off His Horse, 1994, Full color, 32 pages.
The Story of the Milky Way, 1995, Full color, 32 pages.
A Walk to the Great Mystery, 1995, Full color, 32 pages.
The Path of Quiet Elk: A Native American Alphabet Book, 1996, Full color, 32 pages.
Copyright 1998-2005, Chet Staley-Amerindian Arts
Based on interviews with the artist and independent research. Reprint by permission only.