Remembering Shan Goshorn (Eastern Band Cherokee, July 3, 1957–December 1, 2018)
By America Meredith (Cherokee Nation)
A visionary artist, a tireless activist for Indigenous rights, and even a protector of wild birds, Shan Goshorn was guided by compassion throughout her all-too-brief life.
The interdisciplinary artist was born in Baltimore, Maryland, but she spent her summers with her maternal grandmother on the Qualla Boundary in southwestern North Carolina. There she was immersed in Cherokee culture and landscapes. Upon graduating from high school, Shan worked at the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual in Cherokee, North Carolina.
Later, after earning her BFA at the Atlanta College of Art, Shan moved Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she lived since 1981. Beginning in the 1980s, she experimented with photography and hand-tinted she images she shot of her fellow Eastern Band Cherokees living in North Carolina and often hand-tinting them.
With Gerald Cournoyer (Oglala Lakota), Brent Greenwood (Chickasaw-Ponca), Thomas Poolaw (Kiowa), and Holly Wilson (Delaware Nation-Cherokee), Shan belonged to the collective, the Urban Indian 5, which exhibited in Indian hospitals and clinics. They believed in the healing power of visual arts and wanted to share their works with the larger Native community.
In 2007, Shan create a new art form. As JoKay Dowell (Quapaw-Cherokee-Shawnee-Peoria) wrote in FAAM No. 1, “she has taken the occupiers’ language—in the form of treaties, compacts, and speeches, such as that of founder and superintendent of the infamous Carlisle Indian School, Lieutenant Richard Henry Pratt—printed those words onto paper that is then cut into strips, tinted, and woven [them]into Cherokee basketry. …”1 Curator heather ahtone (Choctaw-Chickasaw) wrote, “Each basket is the result of long hours of combing through America’s imperialist history and Shan’s courageous harvesting of the most sequestered stories, those that are buried in the archives and deep in the American psyche.”2
Her baskets tied together Indigenous forms and techniques with Archival Art and later community-based, dialogical art. Shan invited the Native community to contribute to her artworks, by writing on photographs or submitting images. For instance, my mother, niece, and I join the many Native women who contributed our images to her 2014 double-woven basket, Reclaiming Our Power that responded the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in the face of widespread sexual violence against Native women.
Shan continually experimented with her weaving—creating a basket that alluded to a ceremonial fire in Hearts of Our Women (2015), a unique wave-shaped basket with Swept Away (2016), and even a seven-pointed star basket with The Fire Within (2016). Her work dealt with many of the issues she cared deeply about from ending Native mascotry to repatriating human remains. She wove Right to Remain(s) (2013) with transparent X-ray film, so, when lit from within, the innocuous zigzag weave of the basket revealed human bones.
Shan’s work won numerous accolades in art exhibitions and markets. In 2015, she was a United States Artist Fellow, in 2014 Native Arts and Culture Fund Fellow, and in 2013 Eiteljorg Contemporary Native Art Fellow, Smithsonian Art Leadership Fellow, and SWAIA Discovery Fellow. Despite her increasing international recognition as an artist, she always maintained ties to the Cherokee people and continued exhibiting at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Oklahoma.
When Shan’s basket The Legacy of the Carlisle Indian Boarding School̛—poignant since Shan’s own great-grandparents attended Carlisle—won the 2011 Red Earth Festival’s grand prize, a Kiowa elder traveled to see the basket firsthand. “As I explained the message behind the basket,” Shan wrote, “she listened carefully and began to cry when she saw the children’s images and the hundreds of names woven into the interior. She said, ‘This piece belongs in a museum. We need to use it to let everyone know about our history. It is one of our national treasures now.”3
Shan’s works can now be seen in the public collections, including those of the C.N. Gorman Museum, Denver Art Museum, Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Gilcrease Museum, IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Museum of the Cherokee Indian, National Museum of the American Indian, Nordamerika Native Museum, and Surgut Museum of Art.
When Shan learned she had cancer, she maintained a positive outlook and explored all options open to her healing. Her loving husband, Tom Pendergraft, cared for her and traveled with her to treatments at M.D. Anderson in Houston. As the cancer advanced, she continued her artistic practice but carefully used her limited energies. She could not sustain visitors for long. When T.C. Cannon: At the Edge of America came to the Gilcrease Museum, the staff allowed her to come in when the museum was closed so she could the exhibition privately. It was extraordinary, as she neared her end of life, that she was able to curate Resisting the Mission: Filling the Silence at the Trout Gallery at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and attend the October 5 opening in person with her husband and children.
We’ll miss Shan’s ready smile and kind heart but generations of Native artists will find inspiration in her artworks for years to come. As Dowell writes, “Weaving the history of her Cherokee grandmother’s people with spirituality and creativity into beautiful, sometimes haunting, works of art, Goshorn leaves a legacy of activism entwined with art, inciting future generations to stand confident in who they are.”4
A memorial service for Shan will take place on Saturday, December 29, from 1:00 to 4:30 pm at the Gilcrease Museum, 1400 N. Gilcrease Museum Road, Tulsa, Oklahoma.
- JoKay Dowell, “Shan Goshorn: Eastern Band Cherokee Interdisciplinary Artist,” First American Art Magazine no. 1 (Fall 2013): 22–27.
- heather ahtone, “Curator Statement,” in Intertwined: Stories of Splintered Pasts: Shan Goshorn & Sarah Sense (Tulsa, OK: Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa, Hardesty Arts Center, 2015), 10.
- Shan Goshorn, “Artist Statement,” in Intertwined: Stories of Splintered Pasts: Shan Goshorn & Sarah Sense (Tulsa, OK: Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa, Hardesty Arts Center, 2015), 19–20.
- Dowell, “Shan Goshorn,” 22–23.
Poem to Shan by Joy Harjo (Muscogee)
Cherokee Mixed Media Artist Shan Goshorn
Video by Fire Thief Studios, Tulsa, OK