“The Butterfly”

Bennie Nelson (Yellowman)



This gifted, award-winning artist is best known for his powerful portraits of Plains warriors, derived from his wife’s Kiowa heritage , and his own Navajo subject matter.

In this compelling painting, he has gone further afield, to depict a Hopi woman.

Her strength radiates from the canvas; standing still and erect, she looks us straight in the eye.

The title comes from her traditional hairdo, itself given extraordinary size and impact, by the artist, and the Hopi Butterfly Maiden spirit.

Butterflies pollinate plants, which water helps to grow; they are symbols of  a good harvest, good health, happiness, and prosperity.

Her head, hair and face, the multi-strand turquoise necklace, and the Hopi olla she holds, are painted with meticulous and assured detail.

The rest of the painting, however, is studiously minimalist  – even abstract.

The result is as if a spotlight were focussed on her head, and the pottery.

She stands in an unformed, dark space, that resembles outer space; spangled with lighter dots, like stars.

Just behind her left side, the same mottled texture is rendered in warm golds and greens, fading out to dark brown and black, at the bottom.

Her one-shoulder dress and blanket are economically suggested by pale blue lines, and blend into solid darkness at the bottom.

The olla she holds is painted in perfectly traditional, Hopi motifs, with stylized feathers – denoting prayers –  and parallel lines.

Under the pot in her hands, the blanket folds are depicted in parallel lines, suggesting rainfall.

The juxtaposition of cool blues and warm gold and browns implies the contrast of earth and sky, land and water, leading to Nature in balance.

Even though the figure is smaller than her surroundings, she dominates the painting.

She seems to rise from the air, as a spirit might, solemnly offering hopes for a fruitful future.

Dramatic, powerful, and serene at the same time, this is another stirring portrait by this celebrated and gifted artist.

No need to frame it, unless you prefer; it is ready to hang and attract admiring attention.


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