Kay WalkingStick

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Kay WalkingStick
Born 1935 (1935)
Syracuse, New York
Nationality Cherokee Nation
Education MFA Pratt Institute
BFA Beaver College
Known for Painting, mixed media
Awards National Endowment of the Arts; Joan Mitchell Foundation award, National Honor award for Achievement in the Arts; Women's Caucus for Art, Distinguished Artist Award from the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art; Lee Krasner grant, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation

Kay WalkingStick is an American artist who was raised with her mother's Scottish-Irish family in Syracuse, New York. As she matured she explored the history of her father's Cherokee heritage and her "Indianness". The diptychs, for which she has become successful nationally and internationally, represent the duality in life and of her family background. The diptychs are generally created with one side that is representational and the other abstract. She has created a style that blends the training she has received in her undergraduate, graduate and post-graduated studies and with approaches and techniques of indigenous artists.

Her works are in the collections of many universities and museums, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Israel Museum and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. She is an author and was a professor in the art department at Cornell University. She has been accepted into many artist residency programs which have helped her evolve artistically. WalkingStick is the winner of many awards and in 1995 was included in H. W. Janson's History of Art, a standard textbook used by university art departments.

Personal life[edit]

Kay WalkingStick was born in Syracuse, New York, on March 2, 1935,[1][2] the daughter of Ralph S. WalkingStick and Emma McKaig WalkingStick.[3] Emma was of Scottish-Irish heritage, and her father, Ralph, was a member of the Cherokee Nation who wrote and spoke the Cherokee language.[4][5] Ralph was raised in the Cherokee Nation capital in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and attended Dartmouth College, where he was an All-American football player. When World War I broke out, Ralph was among the earliest to sign up. Kay's parents had several children before her, and as they raised their family Ralph WalkingStick worked in the oil fields as a geologist. When he lost his job, he became an alcoholic.[6] While pregnant with Kay, her mother left with their children and moved to Syracuse, New York. Away from her father's homeland, WalkingStick grew up in Syracuse without having experienced the cultural heritage of her Cherokee ancestors. Her siblings, who spent some of their childhood in Oklahoma, had a better understanding of their father's heritage[4][5] and shared "Indian stories" with their younger sister and talked about their handsome father. They were proud to be Native Americans. She liked to color and draw from a young age.[6] There were other members of her family who were artists, but she was the first woman.[5] Her father died when she was a child.[5]

WalkingStick married R. Michael Echols, and they had two children, M. David Echols and Erica Echols Lowry. Her husband died in 1989.[7][8] She lives with artist Dirk Bach[nb 1] in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York,[8] whom she married there in November 2013.[3]


WalkingStick received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1959 from Beaver College, Glenside, Pennsylvania.[nb 2] Having received the Danforth Foundation Graduate Fellowship for Women, she attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, and received her Master of Fine Arts in 1975.[1][4][7] Both Beaver College and Pratt Institute taught mainstream, modern art programs, and at this point she had little or no instruction in Native American art.[6]

WalkingStick was at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire from 1970 to 1971 as an artist-in-residence. In 1976 she was an artist-in-residence in Saratoga Springs, New York, at the Yaddo Artists' Colony. She was in Montauk, New York, in 1983 at the William Flanagan Memorial Creative Persons Center. She studied in Bellagio, Italy, in 1992 at the Conference and Study Center. In 1995 she was a visiting artist at the Vermont Studio Center.[2]



Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce was the subject of her "Chief Joseph" series.[4]

She created representational art works after college and for the next 10 years were self-described as "hard-edged" and "realistic".[4] In the 1970s her works became more abstract[4] and were included in New York City exhibitions, at a time when Native American artists' works were not exhibited,[7] and in 1978 she had a solo exhibition at Bertha Urdang Gallery.[7] She used impasto and wax encaustic techniques for her early paintings.[7] Her work evolved when she began to study Native American art and history, seeking to understand her "Indianness". WalkingStick began a series of works of the 19th-century Nez Perce "Chief Joseph" who resisted reservation life. She applied wax and paint to canvas, using her hands to apply the paint, as did early Native American artists. The layers of wax and paint where cut into with a razor, creating designs.[4] She has integrated other elements into the works, like small rocks, pieces of pottery, metal shavings, copper and dirt. Copper symbolizes capitalistic greed that is the root of the "rape of the earth". Throughout the process she adds paint with her hands or paintbrush or draws in the areas exposed from the cut wax to create her final work.[5]

My wish has been to express our Native and non-native shared identity. I want all people to hold on to their cultures — but I also want to encourage a mutual recognition of a shared being.

Kay WalkingStick[9]

In another search for understanding, Walkingstick created Message to Papa in 1974 to better understand the mixed feelings she had for her father. The work was a stereotypical image of a Native American dwelling, the tipi, even though it was not a Cherokee structure. She used the image, taken from the "white side of herself", as an icon that meant Native American to people of European descent. In the middle of the work she had a Cherokee language translation of the Lord's Prayer.[4]

Kay WalkingStick, Wallowa Mountains Memory, Variations, oil and gold leaf on wood, 35 3/4 x 71 1/2 in, 2004, Metropolitan Museum of Art

WalkingStick has become best known for her use of diptychs, two-paneled works of art. She said, "[T]he diptych is an especially powerful metaphor to express the beauty and power of uniting the disparate and this makes it particularly attractive to those of us who are biracial.[4]

She began making abstract landscape diptychs in the 1980s,[7][4] for which she gained success nationally and internationally.[5] Generally, she made an abstract work on one panel of the diptych and a representational, or realistic, image on the other. She made landscapes of the ancient southwestern sites, Mesa Verde and Canyon de Chelly, from sketches she had made during her visits there.[10] Walkingstick said, "I do not see my paintings as landscapes, per se, but rather as paintings that describe two kinds of perception of the earth. One view is visual and fleeting and the other is abstract and everlasting. These paintings are my attempt to express the mythically inexpressible and to unify the present with eternity."[11]

After her husband died unexpectedly in 1989, she introduced waterfalls to her works, like the painting Abyss, an abstract painting with blood-red water and white foams. She said that the waterfall paintings are "a metaphor for the onrush of time and the unstoppable, ultimate destiny of our lives."[7][10]

The landscape that she made in 1991, Where Are the Generations? reflects the rugged mountains and desert of the Southwest, painted as if seen through a viewfinder, that are indicative of the Westward expansion of the United States. The toll that European colonists had on the indigenous population is reflected, but nearly hidden, in a cloud formation. The words printed there are: "In 1492 we were 20 million. Now we are 2 million. Where are the children? Where are the generations? Never born."[12]

In 1995 she was included in a standard art history textbook, H. W. Janson's History of Art, in universities and colleges.[10]

The diptych Gioioso Variation I (2001) of the Alps, inspired by the many trips WalkingStick made to Italy between 1996 and 2003, "contains sensuous, mountain crevasses that fold and ripple to create a lush visual space; on the right side is a dancing couple, brown against a lighter brown ground, both sides under a shiny, metallic sky. The physicality and sensuousness of this image is both poetic and erotic."[7]

In 2004 she made the painting, Wallowa Mountains Memory, Variations, an abstract of the Sawtooth Mountains, the homeland of the Nez Perce people before they were removed to reservations. A gold leaf sky is used on both side of the diptych painting. On the right side are purple mountains with a Nez Perce parflêche design. On the left are gray and white mountains. The parflêche design is an early Native American abstract technique.[7]


In 1988 WalkingStick was hired by Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, to be an assistant professor of art. She taught there until 1990 when she was employed by the State University of New York, Stony Brook, a position she held for two years. She returned to Cornell University in 1992,[2] where she taught drawing and painting[3] until 2005[7] or 2004, and she began to work full-time in her New York studio.[10]


She is the recipient of the following:



Works of art[edit]

  • Message to Papa, 1974[4]
  • Chief Joseph series[4]
  • Abyss, 1989[7]
  • Where are the Generations?, acrylic, oil, wax and copper; 28" x 50", 1991[12]
  • Gioioso Variation I, diptych, 2001[7]
  • Wallowa Mountains Memory, Variations, painting on wood, 2004[7]


According to author Deborah Everett, "Walkingstalk became solidly established in the mainstream art world during the 1980s and 1990s. For instance, her works went on a touring exhibition in 1994 after she exhibited at the Cairo Biennial.[6] Her works have been shows in many European and American exhibitions, including both solo and group exhibitions,[13] a few of which are the National Museum of Women in the Arts, National Gallery of Canada and Heard Museum. She is represented by New York's June Kelly Gallery.[6]


Her works have been in the collections of:


  • Kay WalkingStick. "Democracy, Inc: Kay WalkingStick on Indian Law." Artforum 30, November 1991, pp. 20-21.
  • Kay WalkingStick. "Native American Art in the Postmodern Era." Art Journal 51, Fall 1992, pp. 15-17.
  • Kay WalkingStick, Stanley I. Grand, and Southeast Missouri Regional Museum. Kay WalkingStick: mythic dances, paintings from four decades. Southeast Missouri Regional Museum; 2004.


  1. ^ Dirk Bach received his bachelor's degree and master's degree in painting at the University of Denver and his master's at the University of Michigan in Far Eastern art history. He taught Contemporary art and Asian art at the Rhode Island School of Design until 1992. His works are exhibited in museums and galleries, including the Harbor Square Gallery in Rockland, Maine and the Nicole Fiacco Gallery in Hudson, New York.[3]
  2. ^ She received a scholarship to attend Beaver College, which she credits for giving her the education to "feel like the artist I knew I was" and led her to become an educator.[8]


  1. ^ a b Phoebe Farris. Women Artists of Color: A Bio-critical Sourcebook to 20th Century Artists in the Americas. Greenwood Publishing Group; 1 January 1999. ISBN 978-0-313-30374-6. p. 108.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Delia Gaze. "Chapter W: Kay WalkingStick." in Concise Dictionary of Women Artists. Routledge; 3 April 2013. ISBN 978-1-136-59901-9.
  3. ^ a b c d "Kay WalkingStick and Dirk Bach". The New York Times. 1 December 2013. Retrieved 14 January 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Liz Sonneborn. A to Z of American Indian Women. Infobase Publishing; 1 January 2007. ISBN 978-1-4381-0788-2. p. 260.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Phoebe Farris. Women Artists of Color: A Bio-critical Sourcebook to 20th Century Artists in the Americas. Greenwood Publishing Group; 1 January 1999. ISBN 978-0-313-30374-6. p. 114.
  6. ^ a b c d e Deborah Everett; Elayne Zorn (2008). Encyclopedia of Native American Artists. Greenwood Press. p. 229. ISBN 978-0-313-33762-8. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Gail Trenblay. Kay WalkingStick. Institute of American Indian Arts. Museum of Contemporary Native Arts. Retrieved January 13, 2014.
  8. ^ a b c Kay WalkingStick. Arcadia University. Retrieved January 13, 2014.
  9. ^ a b "Meet World-Class Alumna, Kay WalkingStick ’59". Arcadia University. Retrieved 14 January 2014. 
  10. ^ a b c d Liz Sonneborn. A to Z of American Indian Women. Infobase Publishing; 1 January 2007. ISBN 978-1-4381-0788-2. p. 261.
  11. ^ Lesk, Sara Mark, ed. Native Views: Influences of Modern Culture. Ann Arbor, MI: Artrain USA, 2004. ASIN B001VAG28W
  12. ^ a b Phoebe Farris. Women Artists of Color: A Bio-critical Sourcebook to 20th Century Artists in the Americas. Greenwood Publishing Group; 1 January 1999. ISBN 978-0-313-30374-6. p. 115.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Exhibition of New Paintings by New York City Artist Kay WalkingStick at the June Kelly Gallery". artdaily.org. Retrieved 14 January 2014. 
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Phoebe Farris. Women Artists of Color: A Bio-critical Sourcebook to 20th Century Artists in the Americas. Greenwood Publishing Group; 1 January 1999. ISBN 978-0-313-30374-6. p. 111.
  15. ^ a b c d "Kay WalkingStick". Vantage Point: The Contemporary Native Art Collection. The National Museum of the American Indian. Retrieved 14 January 2014. 
  16. ^ url=http://explore-art.pem.org/search/39bc6a2607838d22361060d71731dfc6 PEM Collections
  17. ^ Lester, Patrick D. The Biographical Directory of Native American Painters. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995. ISBN 0-8061-9936-9.

Further reading[edit]

  • 20th Century Native American Art: Essays on History and Criticism, ed., J.W. Jackson Rushing (1998)
  • Lawrence Fraser Abbott. "Kay WalkingStick." In I Stand in the Center of the Good: Interviews with Contemporary North American Artists. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994. pp. 269-283.
  • Margaret Archuletta. "Kay WalkingStick (Cherokee)." In Path Breakers. Indianapolis, Indiana: Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and West, 2004. pp. 13-30.
  • Alfred Bierstadt. "Primal Visions: Albert Bierstadt 'Discovers' America," catalog essay, A Cherokee Artist Looks at the Landing of Columbus. Montclair Museum, New Jersey, 2001.
  • Richard A. Bivens, '"Kay WalkingStick." Contemporary Native American Art. Oklahoma: Metro, 1983.
  • Nancy Cane; Alice Dillon; Sheila Stone. 3 artists, 3 stories: Nancy Cohen, Kay WalkingStick, Bisa Washington. New Jersey Center for Visual Arts; 1999.
  • Holland Cotter, Thomas W. Leavitt, Judy Collischan. Kay WalkingStick: paintings, 1974-1990. Long Island University; 1 April 1991.
  • H. W. Janson. (1995) History of Art. New York: Prentice-Hall & Abrams.
  • Thalia Gouma-Peterson and Kathleen McManus. Zurko. "Kay WalkingStick" in We, the Human Beings: 27 Contemporary Native American Artists. Wooster, OH: College of Wooster Art Museum, 1992. 39.
  • "So Fine! Masterworks of Fine Art from the Heard Museum," curator's essay, Great American Artists, Heard Museum, Phoenix, 2002.

External links[edit]