CN honors artist, veteran’s service to country
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee artist and Vietnam veteran Donald Vann began creating art as a young man growing up in Stilwell in Adair County.
He later became one of the most well-known Native American artists in the country with works that blend Cherokee culture and personal experiences to provide a sense of peace.
Vann, 63, grew up mimicking the drawings of his uncles. The first piece of artwork he ever sold was a drawing of Christ on the cross for a local church. He was 10 years old and was paid 75 cents.
When he started Stilwell Junior High, the principal, Dr. Neil Morton, was introduced to Vann’s talent when he asked some students where they got their Beatles T-shirts and found that Vann was the source. Morton recognized that Vann was not like other students and enrolled him in an alternative program, buying him painting supplies and allowing him to paint murals on the school’s walls for two hours every day.
“At that time, school wasn’t made for people like Donald. School was a square hole, and Donald was a round peg in a square hole,” Morton, now the senior advisor to Cherokee Nation Education Services, said. “I’m extremely proud of being a small part of not only Donald’s life, but for assisting him in finding himself in the media of art.”
Morton’s assessment of Vann’s academic needs went ignored when he progressed to high school, where he struggled. Vann dropped out and moved to Montana. There he attended Job Corps, graduating at 14 with his general education development degree. He later returned to Oklahoma to re-enter high school.
During this time, Vann met Muscogee Creek artist Jerome Tiger and Tiger’s agent Nettie Wheeler. Through Tiger, Vann’s natural talent and cultural influences became honed and developed beyond the expectations of one so young.
“I was his first and only student he ever had that actually came to his house and painted on his work table,” Vann said. “I was so impressed and in awe with Jerome. He and Nettie are who really got me started.”
Shortly before his high school graduation, he dropped out again and enlisted in the U.S. Army. Vann served in the Vietnam War and with the 1st Calvary Aviation Division. He served as a door gunner on a helicopter, dropping off and extracting soldiers from the battlefield, but was still able to put his artistic skills to work.
“I did insignias on helicopters and insignias on CO’s (commanding officer) helmets. They liked that,” Vann said. “I did some Indian images on the noses of some helicopters, like feather tomahawks or a cartoon-looking Indian coming at you with a bow and arrow and a knife. Most of our helicopters were named after Indians at that time, like Iroquois and Apache. And stuff like that got me points with my ranking officers.”
In November 1969, Vann’s helicopter was shot down. Only he and his crew chief survived the crash. After recovering from his injuries, Vann rejoined his unit in Fort Hood, Texas, where he was assigned to desk duty and went on to be a drill instructor. In March 1973, he received an honorable discharge, accruing the Purple Heart, National Defense, Good Conduct, Vietnam Campaign and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign medals.
After being discharged, Vann attempted to move back to Adair County but was unable to find the peace he felt in Texas, so he moved to Austin where he stayed nearly 40 years.
As Native American art’s popularity grew in the early 1970s, Vann’s skills were in high demand, and he found himself with a business partner starting a publishing company called Nuwoduhi Galleries, later renamed Native American Images. Before long, Vann’s artwork was being displayed in galleries across the world, on television shows and movies and in the homes and offices of private collectors.
“If I can make people see with their hearts and feel with their eyes, then I have succeeded,” he said.
Today, Vann makes his home and studio in Tahlequah with his family. He takes the occasional tour to galleries across the country, but most of his work is now showcased and sold online, including originals, prints and posters.
On June 10, Vann was one of three veterans honored with a Cherokee Warrior Medal by the CN during its Tribal Council meeting. After the meeting, he signed and gave away posters of his work.
“I think these kind of honors are long overdue for all veterans, not just the ones who were here tonight,” Vann said. “I think it’s time our nations, not just Cherokee, honor our veterans regardless of what wars that they were involved in to let people know that we have warriors among us that are not recognized.”
ᏓᎵᏆ, ᎣᎦᎵᎰᎹ.– ᎠᏣᎳᎩ ᏗᏟᎶᏍᏔᏅᎲᏍᎩ ᎠᎴ Vietnam ᎤᏲᏏᏙᎸ Donald Vann ᎤᎴᏅᎲ ᎪᏢᏍᎬ ᏓᏟᎶᏍᏔᏅᎲᏍᎬ ᎠᏫᏄᏣᏊ ᏥᎨᏒ ᎤᏛᏏᏗᏒ ᎾᎿ ᏍᏗᎵᏫᎵ ᎾᎿ Adair ᏍᎦᏚᎩ.
ᎣᏂᏃ ᎤᏩᎪᏛ ᏧᏓᏃᏣᏟ ᏄᎵᏍᏔᏅ ᎡᎯᏯ ᎠᎹᏱᏟ ᏗᏟᎶᏍᏔᏅᎲᏍᎩ ᎾᎿ ᏍᎦᏚᎩ ᏚᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᎯ ᎤᏠᏯᏍᏛ ᎠᏂᏣᎳᎩ ᏳᎾᏛᏁᎵᏓᏍᏗ ᎠᎴ ᎤᏩᏌ ᎤᎦᏙᎲᏒ ᎤᏁᎶᏗ ᏅᏩᏙᎯᏯᏛ ᎨᏒᎢ.
Vann 63, ᎤᏛᏒ ᏓᏓᏟᎶᏍᏗᏍᎬ ᎤᏚᏥ ᏧᏟᎶᏍᏔᏅᏅ ᏚᏁᎥᎢ. ᎢᎬᏱᏃ ᏧᏟᎶᏍᏔᏅ ᎤᎾᏗᎾ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏥᏌ ᎦᎶᏁᏓ ᎠᎦᏛ ᎾᎿ ᎾᎥ ᏧᏂᎳᏫᏍᏗᎢ. ᏍᎪᎯ ᎢᏳᏕᏘᏴᏓ ᎨᏎ ᎠᎴ ᏦᎩᏄᎪᏗ ᎠᎦᏈᏴᎡᎴᎢ.
ᎤᎴᏅᎯᏃ ᏍᏗᎵᏪᎵ ᏓᏕᎶᏆᏍᎬ ᎦᎵᏉᎩᏁ ᏩᎴᏂᏍᎩ ᏐᏁᎳ ᎢᏍᏗ ᎦᎸᎳᏗ, ᎾᎿ ᏄᎬᏫᏳᏒᎾ, Dr. Neil Morton, ᎤᏩᏛᎲ ᎤᏕᎶᎰᏒ Vann ᎠᎦᏔᎾᎥ ᏚᏛᏛᎾ ᏗᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᎩ ᎾᎿ ᏚᏂᏁᏒ ᎾᎿ Beatles T-shirt ᎠᎴ ᎤᏩᏛᎲ ᎾᏍᎩ VannᎢ ᏂᏓᏳᏓᎴᏅ ᎨᏒ. Morton ᎤᏕᎶᎰᏒ ᎾᎿ Vann ᎤᏠᏯ ᏂᎨᏒᎾ ᎨᏒ ᎠᏂᏐᎢ ᏗᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᎩ ᎠᎴ ᎠᎨᎳᏛ ᎠᎪᏪᎳᏅ ᎤᎾᏑᏱᏍᏗ ᎢᏳᏍᏗ ᎤᎾᏚᎵᏍᎬ ᎤᎾᏙᏢᎯ, ᎤᏩᏒᏅ ᎤᏁᏗ ᏯᏛᎾ ᏧᏑᏫᏍᏙᏗ ᎠᎴ ᎤᎵᏍᎪᎸᏓᏁᎯ ᏧᏑᏫᏍᏗ ᏧᏔᎾ ᏗᏓᏟᎶᏍᏔᏅ ᏓᏑᏫᏍᎬ ᎾᏍᎩᎾ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᎠᏐᏴ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏔᎵ ᎢᏳᏟᎶᏓ ᏩᏥ ᎤᏪᏅᏍᏗ ᎢᎪᎯᏓ ᏧᏙᏓᏮᏋᏓ.
“ᎾᎾᏃ ᎨᏒ, ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ Ꮭ ᏗᎪᏢᏅ ᏱᎨᏎ ᏄᏍᏛ DonaldᎢ. ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏅᎩ ᏧᏅᏏᏯ ᎠᏔᎴᏒᎢ, ᎠᎴ Donald ᎦᏐᏆᎸ ᎨᏒ ᎾᎿ ᏅᎩ ᏧᏅᏏᏱᎢ Ꮭ ᏱᏓᏙᎵᎨᎢ,” Morton, ᏃᏊ ᏥᎩ ᎦᎸᎳᏗ ᎠᏓᏅᏖᏍᏗ ᏗᎧᏃᎯᏎᎯ ᎾᎿ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏙᏗ ᏗᏍᏕᎸᎯᏙᎯ, ᎠᏗᏍᎬᎢ. “ᎢᎦ ᎦᎵᎡᎵᎪ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎤᏍᏗ ᎢᎦᏥᏛᏁᏗ ᎨᏒ ᎾᎿ Donald ᎠᎴᏂᏙᎲ, ᏝᏃ ᏙᎯ ᎾᏍᎩᏊ ᎢᎦᎢ ᎾᏍᎩᏂ ᎡᎵ ᎦᏥᏍᏕᎸᏓ ᎨᏒ ᎤᏓᏩᏛᏗ ᎾᎿ ᏗᏟᎶᏍᏔᏅᎲᏍᎩ ᎨᏒᎢ.”
Morton’s ᎤᏍᏕᎸᎯᏙᎸ ᎾᎿ Vann’s Ꮟ ᎬᏩᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᎤᏂᎬᎬ ᏃᏊ Ꮭ ᏳᎦᏎᏍᏔᏁ ᎾᎿ ᎦᎸᎳᏗ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ, ᎢᎦ ᎤᏦᏎᏗ ᏄᎵᏍᏓᏁᎸ. Vann ᎤᏑᎵᎪᏨ ᎠᎴ ᎤᏓᏅᏒ ᎾᎿ Montana ᏭᎷᏨ. ᎾᎿᏃ ᏚᏕᎶᏆᎥ Job Corps, ᏚᏍᏆᏛ ᎾᎿ ᏂᎦᏚ ᏳᏕᏘᏴᏓ ᎨᏒ ᎯᎠ ᎠᏥᏅᏁᎸ ᏂᎦᎥ ᏗᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᎠᏟᎵᎴᎩ ᎪᏪᎵ ᎤᏁᏒᎢ. ᎣᏂᏃ ᎤᎷᏨ ᎣᎦᎵᎰᎹ ᎤᎴᏅᎲ ᎦᎸᎳᏗ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗᎢ.
ᎯᎢᏃ ᎠᏟᎢᎵᏒ, Vann ᎤᏬᏂᏨ ᎠᎫᏏ ᎠᏴᏫᏯ ᏗᏟᎶᏍᏔᏅᎲᏍᎩ Jerome Tiger ᎠᎴ Tiger’s ᎤᏘᏂᏙᎯ ᎤᎦᏎᏍᏗᏕᎦ Nettie Wheeler.
ᎯᎠ ᏚᎾᏙᎵᏨ ᏂᏗᎦᎵᏍᏙᏗᏍᎬ, Vann’s ᎠᎦᏙᏒ ᎠᎴ ᏯᏛᏁᎵᏗᏍᏗ ᎤᎦᏙᎲᏏᏌᏅ ᎠᎴ ᎤᏬᎷᏩᏛᎲ ᎢᎦᎢᏊ ᎨᏒ ᎾᏍᎩᎾ ᏯᏓᎨᎢ.
“ᎠᏯᏃ ᎢᎬᏱ ᎠᎴ ᎠᏋᏌ ᏗᎦᏕᎶᏆᏍᎩ ᎨᏒ ᎾᎿ ᏧᏪᏅᏒ ᏫᏥᎷᎬ ᎠᎴ ᏥᏑᏫᏒᏍᎬ ᎤᏩᏍᎩᎸᎢ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬ Vann. “ᎢᎦᏃ ᎤᏍᏆᏂᎪᏛ ᎠᎴ ᏥᏍᏆᏂᎪᏍᎬ Jerome ᎠᏯᎥ ᏫᏥᏯᎥ. ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎠᎴ Nettie ᏙᎯᏳ ᎬᎩᏍᏕᎸᎲ ᎬᏩᏂᎩᏍᏔᏅᎢ.”
ᏍᏆᎳ ᎤᎷᎸ ᏧᏍᏆᏗᏍᏗ ᎦᎸᎳᏗ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ, ᏏᏊ ᎤᏑᎵᎪᏨ ᎠᎴ ᎤᏬᏪᎳᏅ U. S. Army. Vann ᏭᏪᏙᎸ Vietnam ᎠᏓᎿᏩ ᎠᎴ ᏚᎵᎪᏒ 1st Calvary Aviation Division. ᎾᏛᏁᎲᏃ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎦᎶᎯᏍᏗ ᎤᏔᎾ ᎦᎶᏊ ᏗᏍᏓᏲᏍᏗᏍᎩ ᎾᎿ ᏥᏳ ᎤᏃᎴ ᎤᏝᏫᏗᏍᎩᎢ, ᏓᏙᏅᏗᏍᎬ ᎠᎴ ᏙᎫᏖᏍᎬ ᎠᏂᏲᏍᎩ ᎾᎿ ᎤᎾᏟᎸᎢ, ᎠᏎᏃ Ꮟ ᎬᏗᏍᎬ ᏄᏍᏛ ᎠᎦᏔᎲᎢ ᏧᏟᎶᏍᏔᏅᎲᏍᏗᎢ.
“ᏕᎪᏪᎳᏅᎲᏍᎬ ᎾᎿ ᏥᏳ ᎠᎴ ᎾᎿ CO’s (commanding officer) ᏧᎾᎵᏍᏇᏚᏬᎩᎢ. ᎠᏂᎸᏉᏗᏍᎬ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬ Vann. “ᏃᎴᏍᏊ ᏙᎦᏟᎶᏍᏗᏍᎬ ᎠᏂᏴᏫᏯ ᏧᏓᎴᏅᏓ ᎦᏴᏌᏛ ᏥᏳᎢ, ᏯᏛᎾ ᎤᎩᏓᏟ ᏗᏓᏍᎫᏴᏍᏙᏗ ᎠᎴ cartoon-ᏗᎧᏃᏗ ᎠᏴᏫᏯ ᏣᎢᏒ ᎾᎿ ᎦᎵᏣᏗ ᎠᎴ ᎦᏟᏓ ᎠᎴ ᎭᏱᎵᏍᏓ. ᎤᎪᏛᏃ ᏥᏳ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎠᏴᏫᏯ ᏧᏙᏍᏗ ᏓᏃᏍᏗᏍᎬ, ᎤᏛᎾ Iroquois ᎠᎴ Apache. ᎠᎴ ᏍᎩᏳᏍᏗᏓᏂ ᏂᎦᏛᏁᎲ ᎣᏍᏓ ᏯᏛᏓ ᎨᏒᎢ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏗᎬᏆᏘᏂᏙᎯ.”
ᎾᎿ ᏅᏓᏕᏆ ᎧᎸ ᏐᏁᎳᏚ ᎢᏍᎪᎯᏧᏈ ᏑᏓᎵᏍᎪ ᏐᏁᎳ ᎤᏕᏘᏴᏌᏍᏒ, Vann ᎤᏦᏛ ᏚᏂᏲᏢ ᎤᏬᎭᏎᎢ. ᎤᏩᏌ ᎠᎴ ᏄᎬᏫᏳᏒ ᏗᏘᏂᏙᎯ ᎤᏂᎦᏛᎴᏎ ᎯᎠ ᏄᎵᏍᏔᏅᎢ.
ᎣᏂᏃ ᏚᎾᏗᏫᏏ ᏕᎨᏥᏐᏅᏅ, Vann ᏙᎤᏖᎳᏕᎴ ᎤᎾᏓᏈᎩ Fort Hood, Texas, ᎾᏍᎩᎾ ᎠᏥᏁᏤᎴ ᎾᎿ ᎦᏍᎩᎸ ᏧᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᏗ ᎠᎴ ᎠᏂᏲᏍᎩ ᏗᏘᏂᏙ ᏗᎨᏲᎲᏍᎩ ᎨᏒ. ᏃᏊᏃ ᎠᏅᏱ ᎧᎸ ᏐᏁᎳᏚ ᎢᏍᎪᎯᏧᏈ ᎦᎵᏆᏍᎪ ᏦᎢ ᎤᏕᏘᏴᏌᏗᏒ, ᎤᏁᏒ ᎤᎩᏒ ᎠᎦᎵᎡᎵᏍᏔᏅ ᏓᏥᏲᏒᎢ, ᏃᎴᏍᏊ ᎠᏗᎭᎵᎨ ᎤᏩᏫ ᎠᎧᏁᏍᏗ ᎠᏥᏁᎸ, ᏂᎬᎾᏛ ᎤᎦᏎᏍᏗ, ᎣᏍᏓ ᎡᏙᎯ, Vietnam Campaign ᎠᎴ Republic of Vietnam Campaign medals.
ᎣᏂᏃ ᏣᏥᏲᏒᏃ, Vann ᎤᏁᎶᏔᏅ ᎤᏪᏅᏍᏗ ᏧᎶᏒ Adair ᏍᎦᏚᎩ ᎠᏎᏃ Ꮭ ᏳᏩᏛᎮ ᏄᏍᏛ ᏅᏩᏙᎯᏯᏛ ᏥᎨᏒ ᎾᎿ Texas, ᏃᏊᏃ ᎤᏓᏅᏒ Austin ᏭᎷᏨ ᎾᎿ ᏅᎩᏍᎪᎯ ᏧᏕᏘᏴᏓ ᏭᏕᏅ.
ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎡᎯᏯ ᎠᎹᏱᏟ ᏗᏟᎶᏍᏔᏅᎲᏍᎩ ᏚᎾᏓᏃᏣᏢ ᎤᏁᏉᏨ Ꮎ ᎢᎬᏱ ᏐᏁᎳᏗ ᎢᏍᎪᎯᏧᏈ ᎦᎵᏆᏍᎪ ᏧᏕᏘᏴᏌᏗᏒᎢ, Vann ᎠᎦᏙᏒ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎣᏍᏓ ᎨᏒ ᏄᎵᏍᏓᏁᎸ ᎠᎴ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎤᎾᏚᎵᏍᎬᎢ, ᎠᎴ ᎤᏓᏩᏛᎲ ᎣᏍᏓ ᏗᎦᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᏗ ᎤᎾᎵᎪᏗ ᎾᎿ ᏗᏂᎴᏴᏗᏍᎩ ᎤᎾᏙᏢᎯ ᏧᏙᎢᏓ Nuwoduhi Galleries, ᎣᏂᏴ ᏚᏃᎢᏌᏅ Native American Images. Ꮭ ᏳᏬᎯᏤ, Vann ᏧᏟᎶᏍᏔᏅᏅ ᎬᏂᎨᏒ ᏂᏚᏅᏅ ᏧᏂᏍᏆᏂᎪᏙᏗ ᎡᎶᎯ ᏗᎬᏩᎾᏗᏫᏍᏗ, ᎠᏓᏴᎳᏗᏍᎩ ᎠᎴ ᏓᎾᏓᏴᎳᏗᏍᎬ ᎠᎴ ᏚᏁᏅᏒ ᎠᎴ ᏚᏙᏢᏒ ᎤᏤᏟᏓ ᏗᏂᏟᏏᏍᎩ ᏧᎾᏟᎶᏍᏔᏅᏅᎢ.
“ᎢᏳᏃ ᎢᎦᎦᏥᏴᏗ ᏱᎩ ᏴᏫ ᎤᏂᎪᏩᏛᏗ ᏧᏂᎾᏫ ᎬᏗ ᎠᎴ ᎤᏂᎪᏩᏛᏗ ᏄᏍᏛ ᎤᎾᏓᏅᏓᏗᏍᏗᏍᎬ, ᏃᏊᏃ ᏄᎵᏍᏔᏅ,” ᎤᏛᏅᎢ.
ᎪᎯᎢᎦ, Vann ᎤᏪᏅᏒ ᎠᎴ ᏧᏟᎶᏍᏔᏅᎲᏍᏗ ᏂᎦᏓ ᏚᏓᏘᎾᎥᎢ. ᏴᏓᎭ ᎠᏂᎩᏍᎪ ᎠᎦᏖᏃᎵᏙᎭ ᏂᎬᎾᏛᏊ , ᎠᏎᏃ ᎤᎪᏛ ᏧᏑᏫᏓ ᏗᏟᎶᏍᏔᏅᏅ ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᏂᎦᎥᏊ ᏥᏄᏍᏗ ᏓᏏᎳᏕᏫᏒ ᏚᏂᏍᎪᎸᏙ, ᎠᏠᏯᏍᏗ ᎢᎬᏱ ᏄᏓᎴ ᏂᎨᏒᏅ, ᏗᎦᎴᏴᏔᏅ ᎠᎴ ᏗᏟᎶᏍᏔᏅ ᏗᎦᏯᎸᏗ.
ᏃᏊᏃ ᏕᎭᎷᏱ ᏍᎪᎯᏁ, Vann ᎾᏍᎩ ᏌᏊ ᎨᏒ ᎾᎿ ᏦᎢ ᎨᎦᎵᎡᎵᏍᏔᏅ ᎾᏍᎩᎾ ᎠᏂᏣᎳᎩ ᏗᎾᏟᎯ ᎠᎧᏁᏍᏗ ᎾᎿ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ ᎾᎯᏳ ᏗᏂᎳᏫᎩ ᏓᎾᏠᏍᎬᎢ. ᎤᏂᏍᏆᏙᏂᏃ, ᏚᏬᏪᎳᏅ ᎠᎴ ᎦᏓᏅᏁᎸ ᏧᏬᏢᏅ ᏧᏔᏂ ᏗᎦᏯᎸᏗ ᏄᏍᏛ ᏚᎸᏫᏍᏓᏁᎲᎢ.
“ᎦᏓᏁᏖᏍᎬ ᎯᎠ ᎢᏳᏍᏗ ᏗᎵᎮᎵᏍᏙᏗ ᎤᏂᏲᏏᏙᎸ Ꮭ ᎢᎵ ᏱᏂᎦᎢ, Ꮭ Ꮎ ᎪᎯᏊ ᎤᏒ ᏣᏁᏙᎲ ᎤᏅᏌ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬ Vann. “ᎦᏓᏅᏖᏍᎬ ᎤᏍᏆᎸᎭ ᎠᏰᎵ, ᏝᎾ ᎠᏂᏣᎳᎩ ᎤᏅᏌ, ᎨᎦᎵᎡᎵᏍᏗᏍᎬ ᎤᏂᏲᏏᏙᎸ ᎢᏳᏍᏗᏊ ᎤᏲᏏᏙᎸᎯ ᏱᎩ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎤᎾᏕᎶᎱᎯᏍᏗ ᏗᏓᏟᎯ ᎨᏒ ᎾᏍᎩᎾ Ꮭ ᏱᎨᎪᎵᏍᏗᏍᎪᎢ.