Award-winning artist blends culture, fantasy
Cherokee artist Kenny Henson works on a painting inside his home studio in Proctor on Feb. 25. Henson is the Cherokee Phoenix’s first quarter giveaway artist. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
A print of artist Kenny Henson’s painting “Lords of the Plains” will be given away April 1 during the Cherokee Phoenix’s first quarterly drawing of the year. COURTESY
Cherokee painter Kenny Henson poses with some of his work inside his home studio on Feb. 25. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
PROCTOR — Drawing inspiration from Cherokee lore, nature and fantasy, artist Kenny Henson captures his imagination on canvas in an award-winning style all his own.
“Everybody says they can pick out my art anywhere,” said Henson, a Cherokee Nation citizen who grew up just north of Tahlequah. “These pieces, when I first start they don’t look like much. Even to me, they won’t look like much. But what’s great is the finished product, it’s totally different when it’s evolved to something really cool.”
Henson’s wildlife and Cherokee-themed artwork is featured at the Cherokee Nation’s new W.W. Hastings Outpatient Health Center in Tahlequah, the Tribal Complex, businesses and private collections across the country. Through acrylic paintings, he brings to life the tales handed down by his Cherokee elders.
“Culture and tradition is all I knew growing up,” he said. “My grandpa and great uncle, they used to tell a lot of stories. A lot of them were like myths or legends or just something you could learn from. Uncle Ike used to tell me stories about Little People. So I’d put those into my paintings.”
Henson and his wife, Carla, live on her family’s original allotment land at the edge of Proctor in Adair County. There, on the banks of the Baron Fork Creek, Henson oversees a small farm.
“I like it here because it’s an inspiration to my artwork out in the country,” Henson said, noting that within sight is an eagle’s nest a couple of decades old. “To me, it’s kind of my animal spirit, I guess, because we moved here both about the same time. I kind of get lost in my artwork here. In the evenings if I feel like painting, time will get away from me. It’s real calming and stress relieving.”
Henson’s favorite artists include the late Frank Frazetta, a fantasy and science fiction artist, and Howard Terpning, best noted for his paintings of Native Americans. Henson’s own style has evolved to a “cross between Indian art and fantasy art,” he said.
“It’s like part of my storytelling on canvas,” he added. “I have gotten comments from people who are not Native thinking it’s almost like comic paintings and stuff.”
Henson said that he’s always drawn in pencil, but transitioned into painting later in life.
“I always had that urge to do art,” he said. “Probably when I hit maybe close to 30, I started wanting to learn to paint — take it a step further than drawing. I just drew on the canvases and started painting. It’s all self-taught from trial and error.”
He was encouraged to enter art shows — a move that paid off.
“I started winning about every show I ever entered,” he said, pointing to a wall filled with ribbons from competitions across the country. “There are probably over 100 of them. They’re all just stacked in there. But, you know, I just started winning, and then I thought hey, ‘I can make money at this.’ Now, my artwork helps pays for my farm. I bought a new tractor, and I’ve got trailers and trucks. It’s all due to my artwork that’s helped me buy that.”
Henson, a design engineer for the CN’s Aerospace & Defense division, is the Cherokee Phoenix’s quarterly giveaway artist. A print of his 2018 painting “Lords of the Plains” will be given away April 1 during the Cherokee Phoenix’s first quarterly drawing of the year. The piece won Best of Show at the Indian Summer Festival in Bartlesville, an Honorable Choice Award at the Cherokee Homecoming Art Show & Sale and a third place award at the Arts Under the Oaks competition in Muskogee. It features three buffalo bulls resting on a grassy knoll overlooking the valley where they once roamed.
To view more of Henson’s work, visit khensonfineart.com