Bill Rabbit

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Native American Artist Bill Rabbit.


Bill Rabbit was an Oklahoma Native artist who experimented with various styles, painting as he felt rather than according to public expectations. Rabbit exhibited his art in numerous locations and won many awards over the period of his artistic career. In 1986, he was designated Master Artist by the Five Civilized Tribes Museum. Toward the end of his life, Rabbit began collaborating on paintings with his daughter Traci, in their mutual studio located in Pryor, OK. On April 9, 2012, Rabbit died.[1]

Early life

Bill Rabbit was born in Casper, Wyoming on December 3, 1946 to parents Swimmer Dave Rabbit and Doris M.E.H Rabbit. He attended school in Casper, where he was the only Cherokee student in the school system. His talent showed early on in his kindergarten class. Rabbit sold his first watercolor in the fourth grade for $4, exhibiting his business savvy. Rabbit has no formal training in art apart from a two-week class in grade school.[2] After high school, Rabbit was accepted to the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico but enlisted in the army instead to serve in Vietnam.[3] Following the war, Rabbit moved to his father's homestead allotment in Mazie, Oklahoma. In Maize, he made Southwestern jewelry with his welding skills. Later, Rabbit took up painting full time and he and his wife began to travel to booth shows and galleries across the country.[4]


Rabbit began painting as he felt rather than in a more traditional style according to what the public wanted. He was part of a wave of artists that broke from the older generation of native artists. Over time, Rabbit's subject matter has evolved from the realistic to the ethereal.[5]

Exhibitions and awards

Rabbit's work is widely known and was exhibited in numerous locations, including:[5]

  • Albuquerque Museum
  • Cherokee National Museum
  • Five Civilized Tribes Museum
  • Red Cloud Indian School Heritage Center Inc. Collection
  • Indian Arts & Crafts Association
  • Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonials
  • John F. Kennedy Center for the performing Arts' Night of the First Americans
  • Paul VI Institute for the Arts' Let the Spirit Speak!
  • Museum of Natural History, the Native American Center for the Living Arts
  • Oklahoma Art Center Gallery's All-Oklahoma Indian Artists Invitational
  • Oklahoma Indian Art Program
  • Oklahoma State Capitol
  • Prairie Fire Invitational Art show
  • Red Cloud Indian School - The Heritage Center's Red Cloud Indian Art show
  • Red Earth Festival
  • Southwestern International Round-up Tri-culture Art show
  • Trail of Tears State Park Gallery
  • University of West Virginia

Bill's work is also featured in numerous public and private galleries. Some of his greatest achievements include:

  • Named poster artist for the Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonials (1984)
  • Designated a Master Artist by the Five civilized Tribes Museum (1986)
  • Poster artist for the Totah Festival (1988)
  • Artist of the Year & poster artist for the American Indian & Cowboy Artists National Western Art Exhibit (1989)
  • Named a Cherokee National Treasure

The Bill Rabbit Legacy Art Scholarship was created in Rabbit's honor by the Cherokee Nation Foundation.[6]

The Art of Family

For Cherokee artist Bill Rabbit, finding inspiration was as easy as a childhood romp. As a youngster growing up in Wyoming, he saw the shapes of animals and people in the clouds over the sagebrush prairie and he reveled in the colors of the western sunsets. Those colors infuse his paintings with a vibrancy that borders on psychedelia-see the skeleton on the wall behind him. He told me, "I’ve never seen a rainbow I didn’t like. So think of the flowers, the trees, just the world full of color. I tell you, all you have to do is decide what you want to use and how do you want to use it. I guess I’m really in love with color, the brighter the better, and, you know, I’m just so fortunate there are people out there that like what I do."

Fortunate, indeed. Among Cherokee artists, Bill Rabbit is one of the most noted. His work hangs on the walls of collectors and in private galleries all over the world, and in tribal galleries and buildings throughout the Cherokee Nation.

One of his greatest works of art, though, may be flesh and blood; his daughter, Traci. From their studio in Pryor, Oklahoma, Bill and Traci Rabbit are practicing the business and creativity of art and basking in the love of family tradition.

While Bill Rabbit's inspiration came easily and almost as an afterthought, Traci Rabbit's own muse was somewhat harder to find. Her father encouraged her when she was a small child by giving her brushes and canvas but her style took time and courage to emerge from her father's broad shadow.

She says, "When I first started painting, inspiration was difficult to come. I had probably in-the-shadow syndrome; that I couldn’t create enough or couldn’t do it well enough or come up with my own ideas. And then as I finally started coming into my own, I realized that it was okay because I was being taught. I was being taught what my dad knew. And then I kind of let go of that disappointment within myself and just kind of let it start flowing."

What flowed out was a gentle stream of Traci's muted portrayals of contemporary Native American women, as visually soft as her father's paintings are jarring-as subtle as evening shadows are to the shock of the noonday sun.

Traci brings something of her own to the family art, a business degree, and it has become invaluable. There are a billion starving artists in the world who cannot make a living, but art from the Rabbit Gallery is available for almost any price range and it sells. Collectors with a few thousand dollars can have an original to hang on the wall but fans with no great fortune can also take something home for just a few dollars. The art is on prints, tiles, cups, cards, and jewelry. The successful marketing efforts allow the Rabbits the freedom to follow their artistic urges and expand. They have recently become involved in collaborative efforts that are also becoming noticed. It is this development that brings the most joy to Traci. "Yes, it’s funny when I started out, being Bill Rabbit’s daughter, people wanted some of my work, being his collectors. And then as my work grew over the years, I have collectors who only collect my work, not his, and visa-versa. Now, with our collaboration works, we’re kind of finding a new little area of collectors that like the idea that we’re a father-daughter working together."

The key word is "together" in this family enterprise of art and love.

External links

Pickens Museum

Osage Warrior in the Enemy Camp by Sculptor John Free. Seeking to attain his tribe's highest war honor by touching his enemy. This action among indigenous peoples is called "Counting Coup".
Osage Warrior in the Enemy Camp by Sculptor John Free. “Osage Warrior in the Enemy Camp” is a bronze created by Osage Artist John Free. The bronze, eight feet high and twelve feet long) was enlarged to 1-1/4 life size through the efforts of John Free of the Bronze Horse foundry in Pawhuska and Hugh Pickens. Pictured (L-R): Hugh Pickens, Executive Director of Pickens Museum and Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear of the Osage Nation.
Three Faces of the Pioneer Woman by Artist Daniel Pickens. “Three Faces of the Pioneer Woman” is a mural painted by fine artist Daniel Pickens. Daniel was born in Lima, Peru in 1974 and is currently living in Stockholm, Sweden. This mural is at our Ponca City location.
“"War Club" by Native Artist Yatika Starr Fields was recently acquired from Garth Greenam Gallery to Pickens Museum. Personal and social struggle have long been integral to the artist’s practice. After joining the Water Protectors at the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016, Fields increasingly centered the Indigenous history of hope and struggle in his work, particularly in his studio practice. In his 2017 series, Tent Metaphor Standing Rock, Field recovered tents after the infamous February 22, 2017 police raid on the protesters. The artist recombined the vivid tenting material—the mainstay of middle-class camping holidays that has become an icon of homelessness and protest movements—into traditional Indigenous patterns, anti-pipeline slogans, and into dynamic, compelling abstract compositions. As in his graffiti works, Fields blurs the line between abstraction and representation, creating stylistic compositions out of recognizable elements, and setting them against dynamic, swirling fields of color and twisting forms. The works blur the boundaries between political polemic and abstraction, between distress, resistance and hope.
Three Faces of the Pioneer Woman by Artist Daniel Pickens. Our mural "The Three Faces of the Pioneer Woman" is located in City Central at our Ponca City location.
Doctor Pickens Museum of Turquoise Jewelry and Art. Pickens Museum displays art works at NOC Tonkawa campus. Pictured (L-R): Dr. Cheryl Evans, NOC President, Hugh Pickens, Executive Director of Pickens Museum, and Sheri Snyder, NOC Vice President for Development and Community Relations. (photo by John Pickard/Northern Oklahoma College) This art is at our Tonkawa location
Native American Artist Yatika Starr Fields Completes Mural for Pickens Museum.
The World's Largest Naja. Future location of Pickens Museum on Route 60 and "U" Street West of Ponca City
Architectural Renderings of Pickens Museum.
Aerial View from East of Future location of Pickens Museum along Route 60 at "U" Street West of Ponca City
Display of Turquoise Jewelry.
Drum player by Allan Houser. This stone carving is part of the collection at Pickens Museum.
"Red Man" by Native American Artist Fritz Scholder. Pickens Museum Director Hugh Pickens on right.
Osage Warrior in the Enemy Camp.
Native American Jewelry Artist Tonya Rafael with a silver frame she created to honor my wife Sr. S.J. Pickens. My wife and Tonya worked together over the years creating new jewelry art pieces. My wife had an eye for color and would often design a spectacular piece and ask Tonya to execute it for her. A skilled silversmith, Tonya would sometimes stay in our guest house, set up a workshop, and work for days at a time on a Squash Blossom, Bolo, or Bracelet my wife commissioned. The piece is a silver picture frame that Tonya cut out of thick silver plate. Around the edge of the picture frame are 95 small turquoise stones. In the top is a large spiny oyster stone in the shape of a heart. The frame contains a photo that Tonya took of my wife a few years ago. Dr. Pickens is wearing one of her favorite outfits and if you look closely you can see a special squash blossom and necklace that Tonya created for my wife. In the bottom of the frame is an inscription.
Native American Artist Jolene Bird. Jolene Bird is an accomplished artist who learned her craft from her grandfather over 20 years ago. Jolene makes her jewelry in the tradition of the Santo Domingo Pueblo in New Mexico. This is a Fender Stratocaster guitar onto which Jolene has attached pieces of Kingman and Sonoran Turquoise highlighted with Jet. The stars are in Abalone, Mother of Pearl, Pipestone, Yellow Serpentine, and Spiny Oyster. The artistry in this piece is simply breathtaking and has to be seen to be believed. Consider that this is a three dimensional mosaic, a three dimensional jigsaw puzzle if you will. Jolene told me that each individual piece of turquoise had to be cut, shaped, and ground down to fit perfectly with the other pieces. Each individual piece probably took six to eight hours to produce and there are literally hundreds of pieces covering the guitar.
American Indian by Paul Manship This piece at Pickens Museum is the only known existing copy of this sculpture.
Painting by Peruvian Artist Josue Sanchez. Photo Credit: Hugh Pickens Pickens Museum

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