Little Thunder: This is Julie Pearson-Little Thunder. Today is December 1, 2010,and I'm interviewing Bert Seabourn for the Oklahoma Native Artists Project of the Oklahoma Oral History Research Project at Oklahoma State University. We're in Bert's home in Oklahoma City. Bert, you have such a range of subject matter and formats, but your style's always instantly recognizable as yours. Where were you born and where did you grow up?
Seabourn: Well, I was born in a little town called Red Barn, Texas, but I wasborn [at home]. A midwife [came] to the house. I lived on the banks of the Pecos River, and then I think the next day they took me up to the closest big town, which is Iraan, Texas, and that's where my birth certificate [is from].
Little Thunder: What did your mother and father do for a living?Seabourn: Mydad, when we were in Texas, he worked for the Humble Oil Company and Refinery, 1:00and my mother didn't work. From there, I think I was in the sixth grade, we moved to Arkansas for a couple years. Then my dad decided to go to California to work in the shipyards, so he dropped us off in Purcell, Oklahoma, which [is where] my mother had lived in her early years. He went to California and stayed there.
Little Thunder: Were your mom's parents still around?
Seabourn: No, her father died many years ago, but her mother died while I was inthe Navy. I was stationed in San Diego at the time, and she died in, I think 1952.
Little Thunder: Any brothers or sisters?
Seabourn: I have a brother and a half-brother, and they're both deceased.2:00
Little Thunder: All families have stories about who they are and where they camefrom. What are some stories that your family told?
Seabourn: Gee, I don't know of any stories. Just a struggle to make a living--
Little Thunder: On your dad's side did you have contact with your grandparentsat all?
Seabourn: No. In fact, I called my grandfather "Mr. Seabourn: ." I was that faraway from him. We'd see them about once a year. We all lived in Texas and they lived in Cisco, Eastland, Texas, but we only got to see each other maybe once a year.
Little Thunder: Like Ben Harjo, cartoons were one of your early loves. How youngwere you when you first became interested in cartoons?
Seabourn: Well, I started wanting to be an artist, a cartoonist, when I was fiveyears old. And I kept that desire on up through high school. I enjoyed comic 3:00books, things like that, and I could envision me doing a super colossal, flying red Zenith or something.
Little Thunder: You actually sold a cartoon, right?Seabourn: I did. I sold acartoon to King Features Syndicate when I was in the eighth grade at Purcell, Oklahoma. And it was published in a comic book. I think I was paid five dollars for it, which wasn't bad at that time. I went five years before I sold my second cartoon, and then I was in the Navy. I sold a lot of cartoons while I was in the Navy. I had cartoons going back and forth, to publishers, magazines, things like that, plus local publications. So, I really was doing a lot of cartoon work then. 4:00
Little Thunder: You didn't have art classes in high school. Did you have art atthe elementary school level?
Seabourn: No art classes. I guess the closest thing to an artist I knew was asign painter, and I'd watch him paint for hours. But no, when I was in high school, I would hitchhike up to Oklahoma City, either that or catch a freight train there in Purcell, ride it to Oklahoma City, and got to the Art Center. So, I saw art every month, but it was all just hitchhiking up and back. Growing up, we didn't have any paintings in the house, no books, nothing except my comic 5:00books, and so the only time I could ever see a painting was, maybe, at the Oklahoma Art Center. And I had to work to see that.
Little Thunder: Did you have to work to get your comic books?
Seabourn: [I sacked groceries at Pratts Grocery. I picked cotton and cut broomcorn to get a little money.] I managed to get them someway. At one time I had first issues of all the comic books, Superman, everybody else. And then when I went in the Navy, they all got destroyed.
Little Thunder: I was curious if your folks were supportive of your drawing, oryour love of cartoons. Was your mom aware of the fact that you loved to draw cartoons?
Seabourn: I don't think my mother was aware of anything concerning me. I did myown thing.
Little Thunder: Did you have any exposure to Indian Art during that period?6:00
Seabourn: Not growing up, no. After the Navy, I went to OCU [Oklahoma CityUniversity], and I was doing non-objective abstracts then.
Little Thunder: You were taking classes there? Had you already developed anabstract style on your own?
Seabourn: Well, probably a little of both. I had a friend out there, BillFlores. And Bill worked at Tinker Air Force Base, doing artwork there, and I worked at OG&E, doing artwork, so we had shows together. And he's actually the one that convinced me to start showing in an all-Indian mall show, and so if it hadn't been for Bill, I probably wouldn't have ever pursued my Indian heritage that way. [Bill Flores was Cherokee/Papago cartoonist whose work reveals a subversive and brilliant use of Indian humor.]
Little Thunder: So you met Bill at OCU. Was he taking classes, too?7:00
Seabourn: Yes, he was taking night classes. We worked during the day and [were]taking classes at night.
Little Thunder: You became interested in your Cherokee heritage in college. Wasit mainly through Bill, or also through encountering other students, or what you were studying?
Seabourn: Well, we'd have assignments in class to do, maybe still lifes,something like that, but then on our own, we could paint anything we wanted to, so that's when I would do my Indian things.
Little Thunder: That's great [it] wasn't discouraged. For some artists takingclasses, it was.
Seabourn: During that time, doing the little mall shows, Fred Beaver, Rance8:00Hood, Kelly Haney, you could buy any of our works for five dollars.
Little Thunder: What was the reception of the works like? Were people prettyinterested in Indian art?
Seabourn: So-so. I might sell as much as five dollars' worth a whole weekend ata mall show. So, that's how interested people were.
Little Thunder: What was it like [showing] with Fred Beaver and Rance Hood?
Seabourn: My first good show I had was with Fred. We had a two-person show atthe Heard Museum in Phoenix. That was way back in the late '60s or early '70s, something like that. Then they bought some for their permanent collection. That 9:00was a good experience. Fred and I were good friends for many years.
Little Thunder: Did you ever enter any of the Philbrook Annual Shows?
Seabourn: Oh, yes. I won awards at Philbrook at their annual Indian Show. It'sbeen a long time ago, but I did enter the show, sure. Blackbear Bosin, a lot of well- known people were showing at that time.
Little Thunder: That was an exciting time. I just found out about the rejectroom not too long ago.
Seabourn: The what?
Little Thunder: The reject room at the Philbrook Annual. That was where theywould hang paintings that didn't make it into the juried selection.
Seabourn: I didn't know they had one. I'm sure I had many in there. (Laughs)
Little Thunder: I don't know [about that]. I don't think so. (Laughs) So during10:00the Navy you worked in the public information office?
Seabourn: Yes. This is when I was in VR-8 at Hickam Air Force Base, a Navy AirSquadron. And we'd do training and safety brochures, evacuation illustrations, how to get on and off a plane, and how to put on a Mae West [Military term for an inflatable life vest]. Then I was an art director for the little magazine they had, monthly magazine. I did covers, illustrations for that. I was there two years, and from there I went over to Pearl Harbor, and I was the artist for Sincpack Fleet. It was a big operation. We had one large building where they had nothing but journalists, writers, photographers. And there were two artists: myself and one other person. We did work for all the ships at sea. If they 11:00didn't have anyone, they could request what they wanted. We'd do a work for them. We had one feature called "Little Known Facts About Your Navy," which is like "Believe It or Not." Another one [was] "Navy Heroes," and then Navy cartoons. These were published during that time they didn't have offset printing. Everything was letter press. So we'd do the artwork there at Pearl Harbor, ship the work up to Great Lakes, they would make mats from those. We had a mailing list of 1,500 weekly newspapers that used our work. That kept the Navy name out front, in case somebody was wanting to join something, maybe they'd join the Navy. So these were supplied free of charge, and it was a great experience for me. 12:00
Little Thunder: Because you're drawing all kinds of poses, et cetera?
Seabourn: And in addition to that, my work was being published in All Hands, TheNavy Aviation News and different magazines. I'd submit cartoons for those. And I free-lanced downtown with a magazine. One publication did about twenty cartoons a month for me in their magazine in downtown Honolulu. I had a lot of cartoons going at that time, and I was submitting cartoons to magazines here in the states, selling that way.
Little Thunder: Was your initial thought that when you came back to civilianlife you would be a commercial artist?
Seabourn: How about a cartoonist? Yes. I had my own little syndicate for awhile. Weekly newspapers I'd have a one cartoon page, little local newspapers, 13:00[like the] Yukon Review, El Reno, Mustang. But I was still working at OG&E.
Little Thunder: Have you saved all those cartoons?
Seabourn: I used to have them. I found one the other day, an old Navy cartoon.It was published probably about '53, something like that. It showed a sailor, he was in a doctor's office, and he had tattoos on his chest, a map [of the] South Pacific. And he was telling the doctor, "Yeah, doc, the pain's somewhere between Kwajalein and Enewetak. (Laughter)
At OG&E, well, Simpco Color Press, I started out with them, fifty cents an hour.But I could work as many hours as I wanted to, and I kept it up for a couple of weeks. Then I went to work for Oklahoma Gas and Electric company as a draftsman. 14:00And I was doing about fifty percent drawing, [and] posters, bulletin board posters--I worked with the magazine there. And then the other half was engineering drawings. Then Simco Color Press offered me a full-time art director job, so I turned in my resignation at OG&E. And the last day of my two weeks' notice, OG&E said, "If you'll stay here, we'll create an art department here for you." I said, "Okay, I'll stay." So, I went ahead and stayed there twenty-three years, doing magazine, newspaper advertising, brochures, billboard layouts, whatever. Magazine, art director, and during that time is when I went to night school at OCU.
Little Thunder: You were also painting on the side?
Seabourn: Really, I wasn't doing too much painting then. [When] I first started15:00out, I wanted to be an illustrator, a commercial artist. And then at OCU, most all the art courses were geared to fine arts. So after a while, I decided that's the way I wanted to go. I would spend weekends, nights, [at] little mall shows, painting, whatever. I used to enter the Scottsdale Annual, which was, at that time, the biggest Indian art show, I guess, in the world. I think they had several categories, and I would send out five or six paintings in each category. And my paintings were like five, ten dollars, something like that. Fritz Scholder, his was like fifteen [dollars]. He was in the shows, too.
Little Thunder: I remember reading that when you started doing Indian images,because there wasn't a market for those images, you suffered a bit financially because you were having to sell your paintings for much less. 16:00
Seabourn: My mother, she used to tell stories about Indian fables, storiesinvolving Indian people, and I thought, "Well, it would be nice just to start doing something like that." So when I first started painting [Indian subject matter], for about the first two years, I did very stylized linear, outline Indian-style painting.
Little Thunder: The flat style?
Seabourn: Yes. I did that for about two years. Then I decided that wasn't forme. I liked what I was doing, but I wanted to do my own version or different, a little more abstract. And I came up with a bird of prey, with maybe a grandfather image, superimposed somewhere within the painting, and it caught on. 17:00That was a reason I had the show at the Heard [Museum] that early in my career.
Little Thunder: What year was that?
Seabourn: It was either late '60s or early '70s. But I was the only one doingthat at that time, and it spread like wildfire. That's what people thought Indian art was then, an Indian image and a bird of prey.
Little Thunder: It's interesting because it's an archetypal image. Some peopleinterpret it like as a medicine person or a shaman, I think you've sometimes referred to it as a storyteller.
Seabourn: Of course, throughout Indian history, they've always been involvedwith animals, birds, talking to them, [getting] guidance. So, I just made a good story type [image]. I could create my own, I could do reference work, and find 18:00things related to it, and there was so much to work with that I just really enjoyed all of it. The researching, the painting.
Little Thunder: So they were helper figures sort of?
Seabourn: Sure. So many clans were named after the different animals, thingslike that. So it's only natural that you can work out a nice subject type thing. That lasted about twenty-one years.
Little Thunder: You really focused on--
Seabourn: People. No portrait type things. Just the grandfather image.
Little Thunder: When you finally decided, "I want to do this fine art thing19:00full-time. I want to make it my job and do this," how did you negotiate that?
Seabourn: Well, in my work at OG&E, I could split my vacations up for shows. Iwould take a week off here and a week off there. But I had a good opportunity to go to Germany one year, to do paintings and talk about Native American art. And I'd already used up my vacation so I couldn't get off. So, I started thinking then, "I need to get away from here." After about twenty-two years there at OG&E, I talked to Bonnie, my wife, about leaving. And she said, "Well, we need 20:00another refrigerator. Let's wait. Next year, we'll talk about it." So next year, "Well, the old car's about ready to fall apart. Let's wait to get another car." Finally, after about the third year, I said, "I've got to get away." So we gave up all the good fringe benefits and hospitalization, and quit. And I started painting twenty-four hours a day.
Little Thunder: I read you were putting out around 365 paintings a year. That'sa lot of work.
Seabourn: I kept that up for about twenty-one years. I might skip a day or two,but then I'd make up for it. Maybe traveling from here to California, I wouldn't have time to paint, but when I got up there, I got backed up and [I'd] paint maybe eight or ten. At that time they were all numbered on the back. So I had a 21:00little code to tell me the day, the month, the number of the painting for that series.
Little Thunder: Did Bonnie take on some of the business [responsibilities] onceyou made that shift?
Seabourn: Oh, she did all the business. I'm not smart, so she took care of allthe book work, go to the framers, pick out frames, pick out mats. She became quite an authority on art, a very good art critic.
Little Thunder: Sometimes that's the most important feedback [from your spouse].
Seabourn: It is, and she didn't mind telling me if something's wrong with apainting, either.
Little Thunder: You showed at the Red Earth Indian Arts Festival in '67 when itopened, and at the Oklahoma City Arts Festival when it opened. How were those 22:00shows important to you?
Seabourn: Well, it gave me an outlet to sell. Red Earth, the first show theyhad, I was the poster artist. They used one of my paintings for the poster, and from then on, it was usually the Best of Show got their work published. But the first year they didn't have anybody, so they picked me, which was good. It gave me a chance to get exposure, same way with the Festival of the Arts downtown. [There were] a lot of people at the Festival of the Arts. It was earlier than Red Earth, of course. There for a year or two, my most expensive painting was maybe fifteen dollars. I would go down there, and I'd have a hundred to a 23:00hundred fifty original paintings I sold for fifty cents each. There was one dentist from Duncan, he came up and he'd buy fifty at a time, and then he'd give them to his patients as gifts. But they were nice little original paintings. Next year I raised them to a dollar, and the next year after, I think they were five dollars.
Little Thunder: When you began painting for a living, did you have to rethinkyour pricing?
Seabourn: By that time the paintings were up to where I could make a livingpainting. For twenty-something years, I did about thirteen major shows a year. And these were from Port Jefferson, New York, to three or four galleries in California, Santa Fe, Taos, Albuquerque, Gallup. We had, like, thirteen major 24:00shows a year for about twenty years. Sometimes we'd maybe fly in from New York, change clothes, take a bath, get in the car and take off for California.
Little Thunder: That's a very heavy show schedule.
Seabourn: It was mad! But we both enjoyed it. We were young, and we could do it.In addition to that, during those years, I had two shows in Germany, one in Singapore, Taiwan, England. I was in a traveling show in South America, showed at the [American] embassies, in each country there. So we worked those in. 25:00
Little Thunder: How did that impact your style or your philosophy of art?
Seabourn: When I went to France, there were five artists [that] went. Ben Harjowas one of those. And we had about fifty patrons of ours that went with us. They were from Oklahoma and Arkansas, both. It was through Shirley Wells' Indian [Territory] Art Gallery in Sapulpa. But, in addition to my Indian work, I called them, "Ladies of the Fast Lane" [paintings]. They had real kissy lips. I tried that for a couple years, but I couldn't sell enough to make a living so I had to drop that. When I went to Taipei, and Singapore both, I think it was their 26:00twenty dollar bill had a kingfisher on it. They did a lot of birds [in their art, but] not too many birds of prey. So I came back--I was getting older and more mellow, so I pretty much phased out my fighting birds, birds of prey. And I just do other kinds of [birds], mocking birds, whatever.
Little Thunder: Did you look at very much Chinese art while you were there? Didyou have that opportunity?
Seabourn: As much as I could, sure. Every place I go I look at as much art as Ican. And I taught over there, when I was in Singapore. I taught every night. OCU sponsored the trip. The first night, they kind of publicized a little, and we 27:00had maybe twenty, twenty-five people there watching. The next night we had about a hundred and fifty, the next night between three hundred and five hundred people--they couldn't even get in.
Little Thunder: Word of mouth got out, didn't it? (Laughs)
Seabourn: And the newspaper--Kelly Haney and I were together, showing, and theyhad "Red Indians" [in the] headlines. I'd never seen that before, but India being so close to Singapore, they have their Indians there, so to distinguish, they call American Indians "Red Indians."
Little Thunder: Did you do any sculpting at OCU?
Seabourn: No. I did some pottery-type things, but no sculpting.28:00
Little Thunder: When you got the commission to do [a] bronze sculpture in '86for Southwestern Bell, how did you go about it?
Seabourn: Well, I wanted to incorporate the medicine man/grandfather image witha red tail hawk--we see more of those than we do eagles around here. I wanted to do a red tail hawk, and I didn't want to do a typical buildup of wax, so I used sheets of balsa wood and constructed [it] that [way]. [It was] a little different from anything around, but I came up with five or six models before I ever turned one in, and about a hundred drawings. I finished this one, and had 29:00it cast here in Oklahoma City, at Scissortail Foundry. And it was one of the five finalists. I got the commission from that. That was my first sculpture, and I felt honored. The other four were professional sculptors. And Charlie Pratt was one of the five.
Little Thunder: You've worked in a variety of [paint] media. What determineswhat medium you use? Does it depend on your mood or on your subject matter?
Seabourn: No, not really. I started out with oil paints, did oil for several30:00years, then from there went to watercolor. Did watercolor for twenty years, and then I wanted to start doing more canvas pieces, so I switched to acrylics. So I'm working ninety-nine percent [in] acrylics now. Still love it. I've been with it several years, but I'm still learning. And I teach two nights a week at City Arts Center, acrylic painting classes. I've been there quite a while, too. I enjoy teaching. I didn't think I would, but I do.
Little Thunder: Could you talk about your acrylic collages a bit? What gave youthe idea to kind of combine more traditional acrylic painting with collage? 31:00
Seabourn: Of course, in the abstracts, you're always picking up pieces of paperor cloth or bottle caps or something. As an artist, you're doing that, picking up all kinds of junk, and you need a place to put it. So, if there are words on it--I guess my first one [was] my show in France. I did this painting, this little American girl, she had a little French hat on and kind of a little sassy look about her. She was an American in Paris, we'll say, and she says, "I want an order of French fries, French toast, and a French kiss, please." (Laughter) 32:00
Little Thunder: When you combine the text with the paintings, there's humor, butit's humor with an edge, like you're trying to get people to look at some behavior they're engaged in.
Seabourn: Sometimes I have a good title, and rather than put the title on theback, I'll just put it on the front.
Little Thunder: Make it part of the text.
Seabourn: It's nothing new. Picasso, he did names on some of his paintings, andso it's nothing really new, just different words.
Little Thunder: I was interested to see that painting that cited [Egon]Schiele's work and another where you referred to [Willem] de Kooning. Do you 33:00research art history for ideas? Or is that the impact of your travels?
Seabourn: I guess all of it, combined. I go into a doctor's office--I never reada book, I look at pictures. I can go through twenty books pretty fast. But every once in a while, you may look through twenty books, and you'll find something that would make a good painting. So I jot down a note or two. Just like when I was cartooning, different things would come up during the day you'd write down. Same with titles for paintings. When I'm driving, that's probably my most creative time. I always have a notepad there, and I'll tell Bonnie, "Write this 34:00down." Or else, if she's asleep, I'll write it down. But if you're just sitting there, driving, nothing to do except watch, you have all these thoughts coming around.
Little Thunder: So it'll be both titles and images, or--
Seabourn: Both, yes. I can see a whole painting, and if I don't write it down,I'll forget.
Little Thunder: Do you think there's any Fritz Scholder influence? Were youinterested in his work at one point?
Seabourn: Sure. I think I've been influenced by every artist I've ever met, oneway or the other. I knew Fritz. We've had dinner with him at his home in Scottsdale, him and his first wife. And we've competed for twenty years or so, 35:00in shows and galleries. But we're friends. In fact, in addition to maybe being influenced by him, I've been influenced by the person that influenced Scholder, Nathan Oliveira. We've both been influenced by Nathan, a San Francisco artist. The single solitary figure standing, that's very typical of what Oliveira did.
Little Thunder: One of the images I like in your more recent work is a kind ofdark-haired woman, she looks dark-skinned, or she's in darker tones. And her hair, it's either on top of her head or it's kind of this triangular cut. 36:00
Seabourn: I don't remember her.
Little Thunder: I'll have to show you in your catalogue. Well, up here forexample. In the corner. [Gestures] You're not thinking of anybody in particular?
Seabourn: No, I'm just trying to get something that--
Little Thunder: Looks pleasing?
Seabourn: I do a lot of ballerinas, and they may wind up looking alike. I paintgrandmas, dogs, cats, whatever. I do a lot of paintings.
Little Thunder: I like the motif of music in some of your paintings.
Seabourn: Let me tell you about that. I've always painted to country western37:00music when I painted, and after our grandchildren got up in high school, we had two violinists and a cellist, and so I was forced to listen to classical music then. And I loved it. So I painted for a number of years [to] just classical music. I don't know anything about it except I like the sound.
Little Thunder: When I walked in, that's what was playing.
Seabourn: Our grandson was a cellist, and I started painting a lot ofcello-playing people, and a few violinists. I still put music notes in a lot of 38:00my abstracts. It may not mean anything to anybody, but I've done a lot with [music].
Little Thunder: You [did] the cover art for the [OK] Mozart Festival [inBartlesville]. [But] that wasn't music, it was flowers, as I remember.
Seabourn: Oh, yes. In fact, also I painted a violin for them. It was auctionedoff. It had a nice abstract on it. And we had a show up there. The gallery, our gallery, Fifty Penn Place, had a show up there during their music festival.
Little Thunder: Humor is a big part of your work. Why is it so important to you?
Seabourn: Sometimes it's not important when I'm thinking about it. And then39:00maybe after I've painted it, I think, "I don't think I could ever create this again." Something that I hate to get rid of, like "Route 66 Shaman." That's always been a favorite. I don't even show that anymore. I'm scared someone will buy it. And Bonnie, if I have a painting she likes, she gets to keep it for her insurance, I guess. So, she's picked out a few. One time, she'd picked out a painting, and we had a couple of people from Dallas up here one evening. They stayed and stayed, and Bonnie had gone to bed. And they wanted to buy one of the ones that Bonnie had picked for herself. So, I went in and woke Bonnie up, and 40:00she really wasn't awake. She said, "Do what you want to." So I sold it. The next day, she found out what had happened and was very, very upset. About two years later, this guy called me from Texas. He knew that Bonnie had been upset. He called and he said, "I'm filing bankruptcy." He said, "Would you like to buy that painting back? Same price I paid for it." I said, "Yes." So I bought it back for Bonnie.
Little Thunder: I think a lot of artists' wives feel that way. It's wonderful toget the opportunity to buy it back. What is your creative process? 41:00
Seabourn: I don't have, necessarily, a creative process. I enjoy working in mysketchbooks. When I first get to the studio in the morning, I may do two or three little quick sketches, something like that. Nothing else, just limbering up, finishing a cup of coffee, maybe. But I just start painting, and it'll kind of develop as I go. Maybe I want a warrior holding a shield, maybe three feathers coming down a breastplate, something like that. Then I'll start sketching and make changes, turn it upside down and start again. Just experimenting. I know, basically, what I want. I want an Indian with this or 42:00that. Then, trying to get it to look like something that people would like, you've got to keep that in mind, too. You're not just pleasing yourself, you're pleasing everybody. But you do need to please yourself, first, and if you can't please yourself, it's hard to sell it to somebody else.
I have let some get out that I wasn't 100 percent sure of, but usually, it'ssomething I really like. I was working at the gallery yesterday, and a lady came in. She looked all around, and finally she said, "I'm looking for A Tahlequah Potter. I said, And Friend? She said, "Yeah." It's one I did several years ago, 43:00and shows this potter, holding a pot. And then [there's] another little drawing of a dog. It looks like it's been collaged on, but it's actually just painted right on there. And up by the face, by the feather of the Tahlequah potter, it says "Tahlequah Potter," and then by the little dog, it says, "And Friend." It's probably, gee, eight, ten years old at least, but I still have it. I'm going to take it to the gallery today, actually, and she's going to pick it up.
Little Thunder: Tell me a bit about the gallery. It's a co-op, actually. Can youexplain how they work? 44:00
Seabourn: Sure. About seventeen, eighteen years ago, this gallery was gettingstarted, Fifty Penn Place, and it was going to be a co-op gallery. They called and wanted to know if I'd like to be in on it, and I said, "Sure." [There's] only three of us still with it from the early days, but we have thirteen working members, and we're all equal owners of it. And then we have guest artists--we let people show, and we charge a small fee. We pay a fee ourselves, and we charge a small fee for the guest artists, but that's what we pay our rent with. We don't make any money. All we do is pay our bills, and pay for advertising shows, things like that. But it gives us a place to show, and we take turns 45:00working. We work in alphabetical order. Like, our daughter, Connie, [because she teaches], if it comes her time to work during the week, then she'll trade with someone for a weekend. So, she'll work a weekend and not have to work during the week. It's very flexible that way. We trade out days.
We had that for eighteen years. Then we had an opportunity to start anothergallery at North Park Mall. So, we went up there, and they had two spots available. We looked at both of them and decided on one. We told them we'd try it out for a couple months, and we repainted everything--floor, walls, got everything ready. And we've been in that one month. We just opened November 1, 46:00and there's I think ten of us up there. We take turns working. It's open six days a week. It's basically the same as the other, except we don't have guest artists. We split the bills. We pay all of our bills that way, just split it, whatever costs. And we all had to ante up money for opening day, have a little bit of money in the cash register. But it's a nice little gallery. That's basically what [a co-op] is. A group of artists get together, they want a place to show. And maybe for a little extra income or help with the rent, they invite guest artists to come in. But it gives them a place to show too, because a lot of artists are looking for places to show. We don't make much money, but it sure helps. 47:00
And it's not on a national scale. It's just Oklahoma City and vicinity. We dohave a web page. We send out, I think, 1,800 invitations each time we have a show. We have a show the second Friday of every other month. Opening receptions, it's almost elbow-to-elbow people. We get good response, a lot of people come in. They may not come again for the next opening, but a lot of good patrons 48:00follow what we do, and then newcomers come in. So, it's just a good experience.
Little Thunder: A great idea for artists. The passage of the Indian Arts andCrafts Act in 1990 changed the Indian art gallery scene for some Indian artists that couldn't provide proof of Indian identity. I know here in Oklahoma, a lot of gallery owners remained loyal to their artists, because there was always a group of artists that were not enrolled. Do you remember those days?
Seabourn: I remember quite well those days. I was probably the oldest oneaffected at that time. I think Willard [Stone] had just died, so I made 49:00headlines from New York to California to France. Since I was in high school, I've been thought of as an Indian. Coach [would say], "Give the ball to the Indian!"
Little Thunder: [So you were] teased and all that--
Seabourn: Yes. [When the Indian Arts and Crafts Act passed], we had todisconnect our phone. We had phone calls coming in from all over the world, wanting to talk to us about it. Bonnie couldn't take it, and we had to go to a psychiatrist for her. And I did a series of cartoons, not really cartoons, it was birds talking, and it was about the Indian law. I couldn't sleep. I got up one night, and I did these sketches all night long. I made etching plates the 50:00next day, and I did ten, ten etchings. Only nine of them I used. [There was] a [Cherokee] tribal council [meeting] during that period, they'd voted me to be an Indian artist. Not card carrying, but just--
Little Thunder: Certified by the tribe.
Seabourn: And about a week later, Wilma [Mankiller] changed her mind, and said,"No." So, I have a little deal [in one etching], something like, "You will be Indian until the waters quit flowing, or until I change my mind." I have a letter from that time, I think Wilma was Chief, but I have a letter saying, in 51:00general, you're recognized as an Indian artist. Red Earth, you had to get something after that to be able to show, so the tribal council or someone sent me a letter. I requested it. They sent a letter stating that I could show, but I quit showing anyway. I would love to go ahead and show. I think I'm entitled to, but Bonnie doesn't want me to show.
Little Thunder: In Indian art shows?Seabourn: She doesn't even want me to showat the Master's show at Muskogee [at the Five Civilized Tribes Museum], but I do. I don't show at Red Earth because she doesn't want me to. I paint Indians, 52:00probably seventy-five percent of my paintings are Indian-related, and I love it. But I have a disclosure I put on the back of them. Something like "If you're buying this painting because you think I'm an Indian, stop. Because [according to] the Indian law of 1990. . . If you're buying it because you like this piece of art, then go for it."
Little Thunder: So the art was the way of dealing with [that?]53:00
Seabourn: It was just one series of etchings, regarding that issue, and I didone other painting. I did this Indian face and the circle with the line through it. Like [the sign] for disabled parking. I did this one Indian face, I put that circle slash on that, but I never did show that. I still have it in the attic. I let it go, I just try to not let it bother me. I paint what I want to, I just don't say I'm Indian. [It's a] hundred million dollars [fine], if you say you're 54:00an Indian and you're not, so I just say, "Hey, I'm undocumented." If they ask, I say, "I'm undocumented. I'm not a member of any tribe." Undocumented. I can paint anything I want to.
Little Thunder: One of your daughters, Connie, chose to be an artist. Iunderstand she's teaching now and doing her art. Did you ever give her any professional advice?
Seabourn: Well, when she was young (I was teaching then, too, nights) I would.And she'd wind up crying. I didn't know how to tell her to do something without 55:00hurting her feelings. And then she got married, then divorced, came back home and lived for a while. And by that time, she had matured, I had matured. She took some lessons with me then and we worked fine. Even today, some of my students, I'll tell them what to do, they'll say, "But I like it this way." I say, "Okay. Do it that way. That's fine. You don't have to do it like I do." Teachers walk a thin line.
Little Thunder: It's not unusual for artists to trade work, or when you're56:00flush, you can buy someone else's art. But you really have this really expansive, wonderful collection here in your house.
Seabourn: My first year at OCU night school, Jack Vallee was probably, at thattime, the best watercolorist in Oklahoma and [the] Southwest. He had gone to OCU, and he had donated a painting to be sold there. We couldn't afford it, but 57:00I bought it anyway, and we paid it out. It was a little quarter sheet watercolor. That was our first painting we got in our collection. Several years later, we were down in Santa Fe for a show. We had a chance to buy a couple of Richard Schmidt's works for $150 each. Bonnie wanted to get them so bad, and I told her, "We just can't afford them." After making mistakes like that, I decided, "Hey, you take care of the money. You know what we have, you know what we can afford, if you want it, you buy it." We still collect. We bought several this year. I don't know where we're going to put them. About every year we give 58:00about thirty paintings to our kids and grandkids and great-grandkids.
Little Thunder: Of your work?
Seabourn: No, of things we've collected. Then we'll start again. We enjoycollecting, and we don't trade. I don't trade out. I traded one for one piece, and I got a short end of the deal. It was a sculptor, and I told him what I wanted, and he said, "Okay." And it wasn't typical of what he does. So, he delivered it and I looked at it, and I said, "This is terrible." He said, "Well, it's what you wanted." I took it, put it in the backyard. It stayed out there for probably fifteen years. Then we got to be closer friends later and I said, 59:00"You know what? I've got this sculpture in my backyard I'd like to trade you for another piece. For that piece there." And so we traded again. (Laughter)
Little Thunder: That's funny. Are you still putting out 365 paintings a year?
Seabourn: I'm doing 300-plus, now. I was in the hospital two weeks ago. I went60:00in on Sunday, got out Wednesday. And I did about ten nice sketches, and [I was] painting in the sketchbook while I was in the hospital. Since then, I haven't been able to really paint, but I've sat and done a lot of good sketchbook work. I'll probably turn out twenty-five pieces like that, that are frameable.
Little Thunder: Looking back over your career, what do you think has been one ofthe highlights?
Seabourn: Getting a painting accepted in the Vatican. It went in 1975, and it'sin their permanent collection. Two different presidents, Bush and Ford both, 61:00have my work. Got to meet both of them. Bush Sr., him and Barbara, and then Gerald and Betty. Their painting, it's in their library collection in Ann Arbor, Michigan. And Bush's--he told me they were going to keep it in their collection until they tire of it, then it'd go to their library collection. So, I felt honored that way. Lonnie Anderson and Burt Reynolds, they bought one of mine. I've had a chance to be acquainted with several movie-type people, different times. Jonathan Winters, he's the first, I guess, star that bought one of my paintings. It doesn't take much to excite me. . . 62:00
Little Thunder: That's pretty exciting stuff.
Seabourn: Getting interviewed by you, that's another highlight in my life. TheChronicles of OSU. (Laughs)
Little Thunder: (Laughs) Is there anything that you would like to add that wehaven't talked about?
Seabourn: Not really. Art has been my passion all my life. I love it. I don'tknow what I'd do if I couldn't paint. I can be feeling bad, terrible--I'd go up there to the studio, and I'd sit down or stand up in front of a canvas, and forget my pains. I can stand up there for hours. Bonnie would have to come get me. "Get down here and get your medicine, and rest." But it's been a great thing 63:00for me. I've enjoyed every bit of it. I mat my own, I frame my own [art]. I do it all, and I enjoy everything about it. I have my own etching press. I can go out and I can pull etchings. I can do monotypes, collographs. I started [with] oils, watercolor--I can still do those if I want to. I feel like I'm a well satisfied person. Good wife, good family, good kids. I've been very fortunate, fortunate to make my living doing art, doing what I want to do. Got to travel, 64:00meet a lot of people. And like I said, I still do 300-plus paintings [a year]. I'm a workaholic. For so many years, I'd spend twenty hours, easily, every day. I've slowed down now. I usually work in the morning until noon, and then we go out and eat lunch. We eat out 365 days a year. Unless it's Thanksgiving. We might eat in.
Little Thunder: Did you start that when you were so busy on the road?
Seabourn: Yes. I would work up until noon, we would go to UPS, mail paintings,go pick up art supplies, eat, come back home, start working again. It's been 65:00great. We've met so many good artists and good friends and collectors. And it's just been a wonderful life. My wife, she gave up--she didn't go to college. She became a wife, taking care of me. She was sixteen [when] we got married, I was eighteen.
Little Thunder: Well, we all feel very fortunate, that you chose what you did.Thank you for your time, Bert.
Seabourn: You're welcome. I enjoyed it.
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