The Grandma Moses of Native American folk art, she is generally credited with popularizing this category. Traditionally raised on the Reservation in New Mexico, she left school after the second grade and helped her family by herding the sheep and goats.
Like Grandma Moses, she didn’t “become” an artist until she was beyond middle age. Her first formal creative efforts were dried clay figures, like the toys of her childhood and that of her children. These little renderings of sheep, horses and riders were rooted in Navajo tradition, but never before made for sale, and never regarded as more than fragile amusements. Mrs. Deschillie’s creativity added scraps of cloth, fleece, horsehair, and bright paint, and her own whimsical sense of humor.
Her later work, that she called “cutouts” are larger figures cut from cardboard boxes and brown grocery bags. These animals, ranging from cows to giraffes and elephants, are painted and dressed in bits of fabric, beads, or whatever is available and appealing to her. She also enlarged her artistic horizon to include tempera paintings of biblical stories and Navajo landscapes.
Whatever she did, Mamie Deschillie’s work exhibited her wonderful ability to see a universe in her own little world, and to share her imagination and youthful sense of fun with us all. Mamie Deschillie left this world in November, 2010, at the age of 100; years well spent.