Eco-Friendly Native Artist Kathy Whitman Brings Calmness to the Chaos

Recycled aluminum buffalo sculpture by Whitman at
Winterowd Fine Art’s 2013 “My Land” exhibition
Photo: Sylvester Hustito

During this year’s SWAIA Indian Market, I attended an opening at Canyon Road’s Winterowd Fine Art that featured works by a number of prominent Native American artists including Phoenix-based, Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara artist Kathy Whitman Elk Woman.  Her buffalo sculpture, made from recycled aluminum cans held a central spot in one of the gallery rooms.  In spite of all the fantastic art surrounding me, it was hard to keep my eyes off of it.  As I moved around the room, I heard conversation, and it became clear to me that I was standing near the artist.  She was speaking to a member of the gallery’s staff, and as their conversation ended, Kathy turned, our eyes met, she smiled and we greeted each other with a “hello” as if we already knew each other.  In fact, we had never met, and in spite of the salutation, I froze as she made her way out of the gallery.   I think, perhaps, I was intimidated by her unique sense of style and the ease with which she navigated the room. 

Flash forward to about a month ago when I decided to friend Kathy on Facebook.  She was featuring some terrific feather and crystal pendants made from recycled aluminum cans on her wall, and I was drawn in by their whimsical nature.

Colorful Eco-Feather and Crystal Pendants by
Kathy Whitman Elk Woman
Photo: Kathy Whitman

Kathy immediately set me straight about the important message that these pieces send to people when they wear them–“Protect Mother Earth!”    In fact, less than a decade ago, Kathy decided she wanted to

Recycled aluminum sculpture by
Kathy Whitman Elk Woman at 

2013 Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market
Best of Show Reception
Photo: Paul Niemi

make an impact on the Earth by being part of the solution to our pollution problems.  She began making wonderful, beautiful eco-jewelry.  This led to her taking the idea to the next level to create realistic sculptures of important creatures in nature–buffalo, eagles and the like.  In March, at the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market,  I happened to snap a picture of one of her award-winning pieces.

This year, we finally had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know one another at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian annual holiday Native Art Market at One Bowling Green in Manhattan.  Since she is from North Dakota and I’m from Wisconsin, so there was an immediate connection. One would think we have known each other for years.  Kathy spoke to me about her art and what motivates her to create pieces out of recycled aluminum and plastic.  Watch my video interview HERE:

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