Ruthe Blalock Jones, Medicine Woman

Ruthe Blalock Jones, Medicine Woman, late 20th century, gouache on poster board, 58.8 x 50.7 cm (Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa)


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Key points 

  • The career of artist Ruthe Blalock Jones (Delaware, Shawnee, Peoria) has been shaped by her lifelong role as an educator. She served as both instructor and director in the art department at Bacone College, an Indigenous American-serving institution, from 1979 to 2010. Her distinctive images of daily life in the Native communities of northeast Oklahoma have appealed to and informed a broad audience for decades.  
  • In her paintings, prints, and drawings, Blalock Jones draws on her upbringing and experience in the Native American Church, a religion that emerged in the late 19th century in Indian Territory and blends different spiritual traditions. In particular, she tends to focus on representations of women’s roles in the church, such as providing water or food to practitioners after an all-night prayer ritual, as seen in Medicine Woman
  • Blalock Jones’s scenes strike a balance between detail and generalization, providing a view into the practices and beliefs of the Native American Church without representing specific individuals or transgressing Native beliefs about privacy regarding religious or ceremonial activity. Her images serve to educate non-Native viewers who may not be as familiar with the traditions of the Native American Church by challenging persistent and erroneous stereotypes about it. They also serve to inspire younger Native generations who wish to connect more deeply with their heritage and community. 
  • Blalock Jones works in a version of Flatstyle painting, a distinctive approach to Native American imagery that emerged at Bacone College in the early 20th century. As the name suggests, Flatstyle presents subjects in flat shapes of color set against largely unadorned backgrounds. Blalock Jones’s use of the bold, opaque colors of the gouache technique accentuates the effects of Flatstyle, to which she adds refined details like fringe or hair to heighten visual engagement with her subject.

Go deeper

Learn more about this painting at the Gilcrease Museum.

Hear directly from Ruthe Blalock Jones in an oral history with the artist.

Learn more about the history and practices of the Native American Church from the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma (produced by the Oklahoma Historical Society) and the Encyclopedia of the Great Plains (developed by the University of Nebraska, Lincoln). 

Learn more about Bacone College.

Laurie A. Eldridge, “Ruthe Blalock Jones: Native American Artist and Educator,” Visual Arts Research 2, no. 35 (Winter 2009), pp. 72–85.

More to think about

How do you see Blalock Jones’s particular blend of specificity and spareness in her images challenging stereotypes of Native people and the Native American Church? 

What other ways are Native artists challenging harmful stereotypes in their work?

Explore the diverse history of the United States through its art. Seeing America is funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Alice L. Walton Foundation.