Luncheon celebrates Native American culture
By Kimberly Woodruff
/ Published November 30, 2015
TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- The Native American Heritage luncheon was held Nov. 18 at the Tinker Club.
The guest speaker was Jeanne Rorex Bridges, a Cherokee artist with a career that includes numerous awards, feature articles in a variety of magazines and newspapers, and paintings used as cover art or illustrations in 16 books published nationally and internationally.
"I've been an artist a long time -- as soon as I first held a pencil, I knew what I wanted to do," said Ms. Bridges.
"My art is so much a part of me that when I'm asked why I paint what I paint and use the colors I use, it is like asking me to explain my personality, and that is not a simple answer," she said. "The combination of my upbringing, family heritage, my environment and my undeniable need to express my opinions and feelings to others is why I paint what I paint."
Ms. Bridges was the sixth child and a mid-life surprise to her Cherokee parents. She said they lived on a ranch and worked all year long with raising cattle and field crops.
"It was a lot of work and a wonderful time and I would never ever trade it," said Ms. Bridges. "As a child I was drawing every chance I got."
Her uncle was Willard Stone, a well-known wood carving artist. She got to visit his studio sometimes and was fascinated by him and his work.
"I was bashful, and never asked him questions, but I realized the strength in his art and how he could express the deepest ideas and feelings in his simple carvings," said Ms. Bridges. "I wanted to express my thoughts and ideas through my work."
Before he passed away, her uncle told her to paint what she knew. And she continues to do that today.
"I paint women and a lot of pregnant women because that is a beautiful time in a woman's life," said Ms. Bridges. "I love to paint barns, and women in the field working, since I was raised working in the fields."
Growing up, many of Ms. Bridges' neighbors were mixed blood like her family. "My 'Sister' series portrayed black people working alongside Indian people," she said.
Ms. Bridges has met many good people and said she has many good friends. She met her husband through her art. He was creative with business, and together they've created a business out of her art. Her work is now scattered across the nation.
Ms. Bridges is used to facing adversity. After a stroke in 2011, she had to teach herself how to paint again with her left hand.
"One thing I always try to live by -- you never know when something you do or say will inspire someone else in their life," said Ms. Bridges. "Always try to be kind and encouraging."
Col. Stephanie Wilson, 72nd Air Base Wing and Tinker installation commander, spoke about Maj. Gen. Clarence Tinker, who was the first Native American to become a major general and also the first general officer to die in World War II. She also talked about the Navajo code talkers in 1942 and countless others who didn't reach that level of recognition, yet their sacrifices and service "are woven into our nation's history and they are an integral part of what makes our nation great."
In the Department of Defense, Native Americans have the highest per capita commitment to the armed forces of any other nationality.
"We are proud of their contributions and honor their contributions...celebrate diversity," said Colonel Wilson. "We must never forget the long, unfortunate chapters of violence, discrimination and deprivation that American Indians have endured."