For Cherokee artist Bill Rabbit, finding inspiration was as easy as a childhood romp. As a youngster growing up in Wyoming, he saw the shapes of animals and people in the clouds over the sagebrush prairie and he reveled in the colors of the western sunsets. Those colors infuse his paintings with a vibrancy that borders on psychedelia-see the skeleton on the wall behind him. He told me, "I’ve never seen a rainbow I didn’t like. So think of the flowers, the trees, just the world full of color. I tell you, all you have to do is decide what you want to use and how do you want to use it. I guess I’m really in love with color, the brighter the better, and, you know, I’m just so fortunate there are people out there that like what I do."
Fortunate, indeed. Among Cherokee artists, Bill Rabbit is one of the most noted. His work hangs on the walls of collectors and in private galleries all over the world, and in tribal galleries and buildings throughout the Cherokee Nation.
One of his greatest works of art, though, may be flesh and blood; his daughter, Traci. From their studio in Pryor, Oklahoma, Bill and Traci Rabbit are practicing the business and creativity of art and basking in the love of family tradition.
While Bill Rabbit's inspiration came easily and almost as an afterthought, Traci Rabbit's own muse was somewhat harder to find. Her father encouraged her when she was a small child by giving her brushes and canvas but her style took time and courage to emerge from her father's broad shadow.
She says, "When I first started painting, inspiration was difficult to come. I had probably in-the-shadow syndrome; that I couldn’t create enough or couldn’t do it well enough or come up with my own ideas. And then as I finally started coming into my own, I realized that it was okay because I was being taught. I was being taught what my dad knew. And then I kind of let go of that disappointment within myself and just kind of let it start flowing."
What flowed out was a gentle stream of Traci's muted portrayals of contemporary Native American women, as visually soft as her father's paintings are jarring-as subtle as evening shadows are to the shock of the noonday sun.
Traci brings something of her own to the family art, a business degree, and it has become invaluable. There are a billion starving artists in the world who cannot make a living, but art from the Rabbit Gallery is available for almost any price range and it sells. Collectors with a few thousand dollars can have an original to hang on the wall but fans with no great fortune can also take something home for just a few dollars. The art is on prints, tiles, cups, cards, and jewelry. The successful marketing efforts allow the Rabbits the freedom to follow their artistic urges and expand. They have recently become involved in collaborative efforts that are also becoming noticed. It is this development that brings the most joy to Traci. "Yes, it’s funny when I started out, being Bill Rabbit’s daughter, people wanted some of my work, being his collectors. And then as my work grew over the years, I have collectors who only collect my work, not his, and visa-versa. Now, with our collaboration works, we’re kind of finding a new little area of collectors that like the idea that we’re a father-daughter working together."
The key word is "together" in this family enterprise of art and love.
Photos by Ron Stahl