The great-great granddaughter of Chief TuTuWa of the Tosawihi Shoshone Tribe, Micqaela Jones has been creating works inspired by her Shoshone culture for more than two decades. She grew up on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation 100 miles northeast of Elko, Nevada, and considers her rural upbringing and family heritage the foundation and inspiration for her vibrant work.
An enrolled member of the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone, Jones calls herself a self-taught artist. She spent years trying different techniques, textures, and colors, painting what she saw in her mind’s eye. Her goal is to connect with people through pieces that tell a story either about nature or her culture. Animals and totems are at the heart of her bold paintings, which are also available as signed and hand-embellished limited edition giclées.
Jones’ award-winning work has been shown across the country and is in the permanent collections of the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, Nevada, and Northeastern Nevada Museum in Elko. Her work can also be seen at galleries in Red Lodge, Montana, and St. George, Utah. Some of her larger pieces are featured at the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe. Also in Santa Fe, she was honored in 2017 with Indian Market’s Design Fellowship Award, which saw her work emblazoned on all official market merchandise.
We talked with Jones from her studio in Elko, where she was sheltering in place with her husband and their five children and working on some personal pieces.
Cowboys & Indians: You were raised on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation near Elko, Nevada. How have the cultural influences of your upbringing inspired your work?
Micqaela Jones: I feel so inspired and grounded when I’m there. The colors and styles I use are all inspired from growing up on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation, which is a hundred miles from the nearest town. My dad and I always went hunting and fishing, and the valley we lived in was so beautiful. The colors I use are inspired from growing up there, and of course from my grandmother’s stories, even though she didn’t have the opportunity to share her culture. Every time I paint something I feel honored to paint things that she could not express.
C&I: Animals and totems are important to the Shoshone and Paiute Nations, where you spent your youth. What animals have you most drawn upon in your work?
Jones: I’m very drawn to buffalo; they are such majestic animals — powerful and very important to our tribe. One of our sons’ middle name is Buffalo. I love their power, strength, and energy and feel like I have a special connection with them — an almost symbiotic relationship. But I also have a growling tiger on my site.
C&I: When you and your family were sheltering in place last spring, you had time to return to several personal works that you’d been too busy to complete because you’d been consumed with shows and commission pieces. Tell us about one of the pieces you’ve been able to make time for.
Jones: The canceling of Santa Fe’s Indian Market in August sort of took the wind out of my sails, and I used the month of April to regroup and went back to a mermaid piece that I had sketched out in 2017. We have property in Baja California near the water and my daughter wanted me to paint us as mermaids using the shells we collected on the beach. This piece is totally outside-the-box for me, but I am really enjoying it.
C&I: Your work is so vibrant and textured. Tell us a bit about your technique and materials.
Jones: I start with a sketch and then move on to texture. I primarily paint with acrylics. I then layer with gesso and take different tools, including palette knives, combs, and even hair-dryer attachments. This process produces a lot of light and captures the glow from within, which is especially evident in my tepee pieces.
C&I: In addition to your original work, you also sell limited edition giclées with hand-detailing. What made you decide to branch out into giclées?
Jones: This is an affordable option for collectors who may not be able to afford my original work. Each piece is gallery-wrapped. I personally embellish each piece, and we can frame them as well.
C&I: Late 2020 seems like it’s going to be a very exciting time for you. I understand you have a clothing line in the works.
Jones: After last year’s Indian Market, several of us Plains Indians were approached to work on a fashion line based on our work, and that’s moving forward. I have my art printed on fabric already, am working on jackets as well, and anticipate we will have our first fashion show in the late fall. I am also working on my 2021 calendar, which always sells out in the first month of the year.
See Micqaela Jones’ work in a solo exhibition at Northeastern Nevada Museum in Elko, November 24, 2020 – February 22, 2021, and as part of the Animal Crossings exhibit at Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, on view through April 11, 2021. Jones is represented by Datura Gallery in St. George, Utah, and BearTooth Gallery Fine Arts in Red Lodge, Montana.
Images courtesy the artist
From our November/December 2020 issue.