Recently the new First Americans Museum has released a short video of me talking about a large commission I completed for them back in January of this year. You can view the video on their social media pages on Facebook and Instagram. I have been patiently waiting to share this project over the last couple of months. I was originally commissioned by FAM back at the beginning of August 2020. We discussed the details, and I gave it some thought and decided to attempt this large project. The first two month we talked about what the idea was to be 2and I was given resources and reference photos to pull from. I developed several sketches throughout the process, and it took time to get to a middle ground with everyone on the final sketch to reference from. At the beginning of October, I was ready to get started.
My husband was a big help by asking some of his supervisors for help in building a unique wood frame. I needed a 10-foot by 2-foot wood frame to stretch my canvas. One of his supervisors is a woodcrafter and he makes cabinets and various other wood projects. He said he could help me make the wood frame. The wood frame he completed was so beautiful in itself. After carefully maneuvering it into our house, and into my studio, I began to stretch the canvas. It took about a week to get the canvas stretched and the canvas covered in gesso. After this was completed, it was time to get oil paints on the canvas.
I started with the background. In the reference material that FAM staff provided, they added a few color palettes of the exhibits. I worked on including those color palettes in the background. I pulled a few designs from the 9 objects photos that were provided to include in the design of the background. After this I decided to begin adding the objects by using oil pastels. Took some time to figure out the space of the objects. I begin to paint the objects, and this was a long process of layering.
I got halfway through this, but this is about the time when my husband and I got COVID. I was out of work for about 4 weeks. But in that time when I was feeling good, I would paint. I made progress, and after being released from quarantine, I began the figures. The figures were really fun. In the reference material that FAM provided they also included images of family members or the creator of the objects. All the figures that are seen are based upon the reference photos of these people. I wanted to capture their likeness in the colorful forms. I added the objects being worn or held by the figures so those that view the piece know how they were used or could still be used today.
My favorite two pieces were the sash belt and the coat. I know how to finger weave and I had an appreciation of this large sash belt from the photos. I also enjoyed the coat because it was beaded with beautiful designs. Once the piece was completed, I signed it. To deliver it my mother and grandfather came over and helped me wrap it, so we could deliver it to FAM. If anyone wants to know, you can fit a 10ft x 2ft oil painting in a Chevy Suburban! My mother and I traveled up to FAM and delivered it. The drop off was in January.
I have been waiting the last several months to reveal this project. FAM gave me the ok when they posted their short video. I am so thankful and happy to share this project with others. In the final process of the piece, FAM brought in a photographer to photograph the oil painting in high resolution photos, which will be sent off to become a large wallpaper to become a mural. The original oil painting is now in their permanent collection. I can’t wait to see the premier of the final installation when FAM opens later this year. I would like to thank FAM staff for this amazing opportunity. I trust I honored the families of these objects as they tell their own stories through my artwork. The final title of this piece is “Reunion with Our Ancestors”. Also, a big thanks to my family and friends for helping me along the way. I have to thank the Creator, the Yei’s, and Manitou’s for blessing me. I encourage others to check out the museum when they open to the public. It is right next to Downtown OKC, and you can see the museum as you travel the I-40 and I-35 junction.
Please enjoy the process photos down below. You can view the photo as well in my Art Portfolio on my website. I am looking forward to my next big project when it comes!
Amber L. DuBose-Shepherd