The images of full blood Cherokee artist Donald Vann speak of peace and tranquility; of solitude. They speak of yesterday's tradition and tomorrow's promise. Through his work, Donald takes the viewer to a place that is as real to him as the tangible world. To see his paintings is to feel the crunch of snow beneath one's feet, to hear the wind whisper through the aspen trees, to smell the wood smoke and buffalo hide tipis.

"All my life", Donald explains, "I have had this desire to paint. With images I can express thoughts and feelings that I could never put into words." He uses the warriors on horseback, the medicine man greeting the dawn, the young maidens picking the berries to convey moods that are much more universal. He uses those forces to tell how he feels about the unseen forces that influence life. Donald draws his greatest inspiration from the earth and sky, from the rhythms of nature. These elements have been part of his life for as long as he can remember.

"It wasn't easy growing up with nine brothers and sisters in a two-room house. I spent a lot of time hunting, but that was really just a way of being by myself out of doors. That is where I felt most comfortable. I didn't have any real art supplies back then, so I made my own. For paint brushes, I would cut the hair off my dog's tail and tie it to the end of a stick." And for paint? "I melted crayons over my mother's wood stove. It didn't work very good," he laughingly confides. "But we had no money to waste on real paints or even paper. I used old cardboard boxes for that."

Those crude beginnings, however, were destined to change, and quickly. Donald began his pursuit of art in earnest at the age of fourteen. "I didn't fit in too well at school. Even the one art class I took I flunked. But then, I always thought that education got in the way of learning. I was much more interested in the teachings of the holy man for my clan and in the survival and herb skills my grandparents taught me."

By combining his love for art and his Cherokee heritage, Donald was able to create moving images that captured the heart of the American people. The Cherokee National Heritage Society proclaimed him "one of the best known Indian artists working this century" when they presented him their Grand Award for his watercolor "Leaving the Memories". The Smithsonian Institution's Museum of the American Indian awarded him first place for "The Departure".

"Through my images," Donald says when asked of his success, "I hope people will be inspired to learn more about the customs and values of America's native peoples. Our traditions teach many things that can help all people. In today's fast-paced world, it is too easy to get cut off from one's heritage and lose sight of the things that are truly important. If I can make people see with their heart and feel with their eyes, then my art has spoken. Then I have succeeded."


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