Brummett Echohawk, An Island of Redbuds on the Cimarron

Brummett Echohawk (Pawnee), An Island of Redbuds on the Cimarron, 1968, oil on canvas, 91.4 x 116.4 cm (Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa)

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Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank: [0:04] We’re at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, standing before a painting by Brummett Echohawk called “An Island of Redbuds on the Cimarron,” from 1968. It is a tour de force of color and light and the application of paint, and it’s very much rooted in the land here in Oklahoma.

Diana Folsom: [0:24] Brummett Echohawk is a part of a Pawnee family that was removed with the rest of the Pawnee Nation. They lived on their tribal reservation lands, and then a few years later the Dawes Act came into being and everyone had to apply to the US government to get a piece of land and then be decreed to be officially an Indian. Then you were assigned an allotment.

[0:47] This is a soul illustration of the family land allotment where his father grew up, and then he grew up, and other generations are still living on this land. There’s a strong connection there still, so this is a very important area that he knew deeply and very closely.

[1:02] Native peoples often live along the rivers, and I think there was a feeling of a deep memory from where the Pawnee used to live in their homelands in Wichita. I think this painting expresses this concept of home and a homeland that is more than important to Native peoples. It’s a living part of the life of every Indigenous person, and it has a deeply spiritual meaning.

[1:26] This is an Impressionist-style painting, but it has the feeling of the light that we have here in Oklahoma.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [1:32] I’m struck by the luminous blue-gray underpainting that we see in the lower left corner, but then as our eye moves towards the redbud, we see thicker application of paint in greens and yellows and peaches and purples and blues and oranges.

[1:50] He’s not just painting this landscape using one particular type of brushstroke or even one technique, he’s using a variety of textures to give us this impression of the landscape. The petals of the redbud are thickly applied, but we can see in the tree that he’s probably used the end of his brush and drawn lines, or maybe that’s from the use of a knife?

Diana: [2:15] He actively used the Bowie knife, and there are photos of him painting with it. You can see even the points of the knife and the flat areas where he smooshed the paint along and the very thin lines that are clearly made by a long, sharp edge, probably of the Bowie knife.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [2:32] We know that Echohawk is painting outside often.

Diana: [2:36] Although he started doing drawings as an artist while he was in the army in World War II, in the 45th Infantry, so he clearly had the passion and innate skill. Then, after the war, he went to the Detroit School of Arts & Crafts and then the Art Institute of Chicago, the school there. That must have been where he encountered the Impressionist paintings.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [2:55] Throughout his lifetime he comments on his artistic process, on artists that influenced him, and even on his training and what it meant for him to be an artist. He says at one point, “I want to be able to take a color and add thunder and bounce to it. I want my work to come to life. Toulouse-Lautrec was touching on it, Van Gogh came very close.”

[3:17] That suggests that he thinks these artists came close to achieving what he is able to do, through having a deep connection to these lands himself. Because Echohawk was Pawnee, many people who were non-Native wanted to see him as an Indian artist, and felt that he should be painting in a style that was read as more traditional.

[3:37] We are not that far removed from, say, the Kiowa Six and other artists who painted in a very different way. Echohawk very much resisted that label and that type of style. In fact, the painting that we’re seeing here is one of many different ways in which Echohawk painted.

Diana: [3:55] He seemed to have three major ways of working. When he was younger and he was in the 45th Infantry in Italy, he did rapid, beautiful, fresh, realistic sketches of scenes of the battlefield, and he used any kind of material he could find — paper, cardboard, even paper off of dead German soldiers — and then he had his very realistic portrait style. He used some different techniques.

[4:20] Then these landscapes were so much fresher in their paint handling, and of course, probably working outside. He was working rapidly and inspired by the land and all that he saw around him, and the color and the light.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [4:33] While he today is maybe more well-known in some circles for his realistic paintings, Echohawk himself felt a certain affinity for these Impressionistic paintings, and he even says that a painting should be an investment. “It should move you, and move you, and move you. That’s why I do impressionistic landscapes. I am painting the spirit of a picture, not a picture of a picture.”

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Cite this page as: Diana Folsom and Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank, "Brummett Echohawk, An Island of Redbuds on the Cimarron," in Smarthistory, July 19, 2022, accessed June 21, 2024,