SOLANA BEACH — Native American sculptors, painters and jewelry makers from the San Diego area and beyond are showing their works at the Exclusive Collections Gallery in Solana Beach throughout November in celebration of Native American Heritage Month.
This is the second year gallery founder Ruth-Ann Thorn has held the show, This Is Indian Country, during November to celebrate Indigenous peoples and elevate art works that preserve the heritage of different Native tribes.
“Our language is not a written language, so we speak in storytelling, in the visual arts you see here … those are the things that really show who we are as Native people. Here you see a group of people that are really preserving their culture through the visual arts,” said Thorn, who is a part of the local Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians, one of 13 bands of the Kumeyaay nation.
Opening Nov. 5, the show runs up until Thanksgiving and features eight Native American artists, several with roots in the San Diego region.
Upon entering the gallery, visitors are met with the arresting acrylic portraits by Navajo artist Jeremy Salazar, all featuring different Native American figures both real and imagined. By the commanding caliber of his works, it’s hard to believe he has only been painting for around five or six years.
“The first painting I ever sold was to my younger brother,” he recalled. “There’s a lot of Native artwork out there, but a lot of it is done by non-Natives. I want to raise the platform for our Native artisans. It’s such a pleasure to be able to represent my artwork here in Southern California.”
Ruben Chato, a member of the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas, started his artistic journey at Mesa College in San Diego following his service in the Navy. On display at EC Gallery is a series of paintings from his college days, showing the four stages of traditional dancing with bright colors and brush strokes that create an undeniable sense of life and movement.
“It’s always an honor when you’re asked to do something, knowing you’re asked to be a part of something for your people. There’s no greater joy,” said Chato.
Del Curfman, the show’s youngest artist from the Crow Nation in Montana, exhibited oil paint works from his Vanishing Series, where gentle strokes of bright color are pulled in streams behind his detailed human subjects.
“I think it’s an important, crucial time to highlight Native arts and peoples. With the efforts of Ruth-Ann, it’s very much an opportunity we appreciate so much,” Curfman said. “This work is not only meant to educate, but enlighten.”
Aside from painters, the show also features Kumeyaay sculptor Johnny Bear Contreras, jewelry maker Cody Sanderson, photographer Cara Romero, woodcarver LX Lewis, and painter/sculptor George Rivera.
While much of the country’s Native American art hub is centered in Santa Fe, Thorn said This Is Indian Country provides a platform for Native art in Southern California.
“When I curate the show, I think about who is here locally and our ancestors from California, but I also want people to understand that California, the Natives from California, aren’t like anywhere else. We’re different,” Thorn said.
EC Gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. It is located at 212 S. Cedros Ave #104 in Solana Beach.