By JENNIFER K. BAUERAfter winning a $50,000 award and recognition as one of America’s most accomplished and innovative artists, Marcus Amerman is still reeling with surprise while juggling big and “tiny” ideas about what to do with the money.
“Yeah, I was shocked, I still am. I still can’t quite believe it,” says Amerman, 55, of Stites, one of 32 people recently named a 2014 United States Artist Fellow by the nonprofit United States Artist organization.
Amerman, a member of the Choctaw Nation, creates in mediums including glass, fashion design, performance art and beadwork. He is known for combining his American Indian arts heritage with socio-political ideas. His work is in the permanent collection of many museums, including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
There are no restrictions on how the award money can be used. Amerman lists his “tiny ideas:”
-Better mouse traps
-Start using aftershave
-Money clips to accommodate more bills
-Hotter burning wood
-More protein in my diet
-My T-shirts are going to have that little pocket on them from now on
-Start carrying some flash money
-And since I live in Idaho, lots and lots of guns
As far as bigger ideas, he says he would like to use the award to better communicate the ideas in his art to the larger world. One way he may do this is through his performance art character Buffalo Man.
“I call it the point of no return performance,” he says. “Buffalo Man is the voice of the Earth, a harbinger of doom with the message that as a planet we are at the point of no return. We can’t return to a level of comfort and living without some suffering. I think the Earth is insulted and is retaliating. In the late ‘90s I did this performance and back then it wasn’t really accepted that much. … Now I’m sort of reviving that character.”
At any one time, Amerman’s art is usually on exhibit in multiple shows in Europe, including upcoming exhibits in Scotland, the Hague and Germany. He says he can never attend and now hopes to do so. He says he finds Europeans to be more open to American Indian art work and the social and political ideas behind his work, than Americans, in general.
For his most recent work Amerman is using vintage hubcaps, an icon of American life, to make American Indian-style shields. To the hubcap he attaches wooden feathers that he paints, fabric, buttons and other items that he finds around Kooskia. The shields, like the rest of his art, is aimed to “bust stereotypes and mirror society itself.”
Amerman was born in Phoenix and raised in the Northwest, graduating from high school in Pendleton, Ore., and earning a degree in fine arts from Whitman College. He continued his studies at the Institute of American Indian Arts in New Mexico where he lived for several decades before moving to Stites, outside Kooskia, Idaho, on the Nez Perce Reservation, where he lives with his parents who are in their 80s.
“It’s so beautiful in Kooskia. It fosters that closeness to nature that I find informs my artwork,” Amerman says.