Blogs about Famous Artists


Medicine Men in Native Societies

Though it differs throughout tribes, there are many similarities in Native American Medicine. The primary function of most medicine men is to secure the help of the spirits. Sometimes this help may be sought to heal illness, psyche, or to promote harmony between people or nature. Medicine men are not necessarily doctors or herbalists in the way many think. They provide more of a bridge between spiritual worlds and the human world.

Apache Medicine Man

According to Edward S. Curtis in Volume IV, Many of the medicine-men have some knowledge of the medicinal properties of plants and generally make use of them in the treatment of disease, but their treatment consists more of incantation that anything else. Even in collecting plants they will evoke deities.

In apache tribes, every medicine man has a medicine skin inscribed with the symbolism of tribal mythology pictured above in, “Apache Medicine Man” According to Edward S. Curtis, in his own Kowa, or dwelling, with the painted skin spread before him a medicine man will sit and croon songs  and pray all day and all night in hope of hearing the voices of celestial messengers.

Mandan and Hidatsa tribes had similar medicinal practices. Like many tribes, medicine-power was obtained either in visions produced by fasting or through purchase. The more medicine a man could obtain the greater his spiritual power was supposed to be. Each particular medicine was accompanied with certain songs pertaining to it, and in purchasing the medicine the songs became the property of the new owner jointly with their original possessor.

Anyone seeking aid of medicine man would first fill a pipe, take it reverently to his lodge, and lay it on the ground in front of the scaffold. The healer’s acceptance of the case was indicated by smoking the pipe.

Plate 31 Nesjaja Hatali - Navaho

One of such men was Nesjaja Matali a well-known medicine man pictured above. The Description by Edward S. Curtis is as follows: While in the Cañon de Chelly the writer witnessed a very interesting four days’ ceremony given by the Wind Doctor. Nesjaja Hatali was also assistant medicine-man in two nine days’ ceremonies studied – one in Cañon del Muerto and the other in this portfolio (No. 39) is reproduced from one made and used by this priest-doctor in the Mountain Chant.

 “Nesjaja Hatali – Navaho, 1904”

Slow Bull, of the Ogalala pictured below is another well-known medicine man that Curtis described in his volumes.

Plate 76 The Medicine Man

Edward S. Curtis stated: “Invocation and supplication enter so much into the life of the Indian that this picture of the grim old warrior invoking the Mysteries is most characteristic. The subject of the illustration is Slow Bull. Born in 1844 First war party at 14, under Red Cloud, against Apsaroke. At 17 he captured one hundred and seventy horses from Apsaroke. In the same year he received medicine from buffalo in a dream while he slept on a hilltop, not fasting, but resisting from travel on the war-path. He was a subchief of Ogalala starting in 1878.” 

These men were respected member of their tribes and often become chiefs. The traditional method of healing by the Native Americans is still respected today in the modern world.


“The Medicine Man”, 1907

The Battle of Little Bighorn and Edward S. Curtis

The epic battle of Little Bighorn took place in 1876 and remains shrouded in controversy to this day. Warriors of the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes clashed with men of the 7th Regiment of the US Cavalry led by the famous and well-loved General Custer. The battle was a bloody display of the soured relationship between Native American tribes and the white settlers.

The conflict was sparked by a treaty, made by many Lakota leaders with the US government, which created a large reservation for the tribes. However, not all Native Americans had agreed to this treaty, and in breaking its rules they sparked disputes. Perhaps the larger issue began when Custer took a survey of resources in the area and found gold. This discovery led to an influx of miners and entrepreneurs into the reservation, a direct violation of the treaty. When the US tried to buy the land from the Lakota, the tribe refused, resulting in more tension and eventually hostile Native Americans and Calvary invasions.

Custer's Battlefield Map

“Custer’s Battlefield Map” by Edward S. Curtis c.1891

The Calvary leader General Custer was one of the most celebrated military men in America. After the battle, Custer was widely portrayed as a doomed hero. However, another truth needed to be told. The firsthand accounts Curtis gathered from the Native Americans revealed that Custer’s actions were not heroic at all. Scouts relayed stories that showed Custer as heartless, cowardly, and a poor military planner. They claimed that the battle could have ended in victory for Americans, or at least a draw, had Custer made wiser decisions and listened to the scouts.

Custer's Crow Scouts (2)

“Custer’s Crow Scouts” by Edward S. Curtis c.1908

Curtis tried to bring this information to the public by reporting that Custer, “unnecessarily sacrificed the lives of soldiers to further his own personal end.” This assessment caused a furor. Officers considered this view as slander against an American hero and Custer’s wife used her political and social connections to prevent Curtis’ view from being published. Because Curtis’ account from the Native Americans was so controversial, even Roosevelt ended up deeming his theory improbable and it was dismissed immediately.

The battle remains embroiled in controversy with very little consensus, except that Custer was killed. The issues are endless: the time and length of the Last Stand, how Custer died, the size of the Indian encampment, the number of warriors, the numbers killed in the Deep Ravine, etc. Curtis’ information from the Tribes represents the often-unheard voice of the Native Americans. It may be that Curtis was right, but his account was dismissed because it embarrassed the US. Nevertheless, Curtis sought the truth and his actions are testimony to his trust in the Native American Indians and his commitment to make their voices heard. This battle remains an enduring symbol that illustrates the clash of cultures between Native Americans and the White Settlers.

General Custer HC 5_15_LR

“General Custer” by Andy Warhol




Andy Warhol’s Endangered Species Portfolio: The Bighorn Ram

The Endangered Species portfolio was commissioned by Ronald and Frayda Feldman, longtime political and environmental activists. Warhol had always had an interest in animals and after a conversation with the couple about pressing ecological issues the idea arose to create this series. Using brilliant almost psychedelic colors and poignant expressions (suggestive of the animals fates) Warhol created a stunning display that is still relevant today.

The portfolio was made in 1983 and consists of 10 different screenprints. Some of the animals he chose to highlight are: the African elephant, Siberian tiger, bald eagle, black rhinoceros, and the bighorn ram. He created a small main edition of only 150 of each image, making the existing pieces quite rare. He also created 30 individually unique Trial Proofs of each image, to test and choose the colors scheme for the main edition. These “TP’s” are exceedingly rare, they are unique pieces. We are very pleased to have one of the 30 Trial Proofs of the “Bighorn Ram” available here at Valley Fine Art.

Warhol Bighorn Ram      Bighorn Ram TP22          “Bighorn Ram” Original Edition of 150                        “Bighorn Ram” TP of 30 (Currently Available)

On the left you see the color scheme of the Bighorn Ram if the main edition of 150 and on the right the unique TP color scheme of the piece. One will notice that they vary quite vastly in color which gives an interesting view into Warhol’s process. For every collection that he created he made a number of trial proofs, which were never specifically intended to be sold. It is a great opportunity for the collector to come across a piece of this exceptional quality and rarity.


A Look inside of Edward S. Curtis’ Volume VI

With the support of President Roosevelt and the financial backing of J.P Morgan, Edward Curtis was able to produce a photo-ethnographic study that was (and still is to this day) widely regarded as the finest set of limited- edition books ever made in America.

ESC1875 Front

The North American Indian consists of twenty volumes and twenty portfolio sets. These exquisite books are hand bound in leather, written with hand-set letter press text, and illustrated with hand-pulled photogravure prints. Every page is printed on handmade imported paper. Edward S. Curtis would settle for nothing but the very best for his massive project that took over 30 years. A look into one of Edward Curtis’ Volumes reveals an incredible amount of information, vocabulary, musical score, images, and ideas.

VI Edition #

We are fortunate to have Volume VI here in the gallery to draw from and share one of the incredible masterpieces that Edward S. Curtis created. After the Edition number, one of the first pages that appears in every volume is the title page (preserved under tissue) across from which is the frontice image of the volume:

VI Frontice

After the Table of contents and a brief forward written by Edward S. Curtis he goes on to give a general description of the first tribe he will present followed by pages of images and more information. This information can include Vocabulary, Alphabets (as seen below) musical score and much more.

VI Contents

An example of Musical Score:

VI Musical Score

As stated by noted author and critic A. D. Coleman, “Curtis’s work stands as… an absolutely unmatched masterpiece of visual anthropology, and one of the most thorough, extensive, and profound photographic works of all time.”  These Volumes are truly a gift that Edward Curtis left for the world.

VI Back



What is a Goldtone?

Known as one of Edward Curtis’ favorite medium, he describes the medium beautifully:

“The ordinary photographic print, however good, lacks depth and transparency, or more strictly speaking, translucency. We all know how beautiful are the stones and pebbles in the limpid brook of the forest where the water absorbs the blue of the sky and the green of the foliage, yet when we take the same iridescent pebbles from the water and dry them they are dull and lifeless, so it is with the ordinary photographic print, but in the Curt-Tones all the transparency is retained and they are as full of life and sparkle as an opal.”

Edward S. Curtis, Curtis photographs

EDWARD CURTIS: “Canon de Chelly” 11 x 14 inches

Goldtones / Orotones / Curt-tones are rare and sought after. Comprising of less than 1% of what the artist left behind. Each example was creating by Curtis, in his own studio to help fund his larger project “The North American Indian”. In his time the goldtone medium was rarely used, and though Edward Curtis did not invent the process he created more goldtone examples than any other artist. In simple terms, a goldtone is a positive image on glass (most images are a positive image on paper).


EDWARD CURTIS: “At the Old Well at Acoma” 8 x 10 inches

The process Edward Curtis used was to take a clear plate of optical glass and spread a liquid emulsion on the surface of the plate. He then projected his negative onto the glass to create a positive image. The highlights and shadows could not be seen unless there was some type of backing on the image. He mixed a combination of banana oils and bronzing powders to create a goldtone effect, and then floated this mixture onto the dried emulsion.


EDWARD CURTIS: “Canon Del Muerto” 14 x 11 inches

The final process involved backing the glass image to so that all the chemicals bonded together. Lastly Edward Curtis framed each image in either a batwing, pie-crust, or ribbon frame. The Goldtones that have surfaced today are by far some of his most brilliant works.


EDWARD CURTIS: “The Fisherman – Wisham” 14 x 11 inches

You Can Boost Your Creativity by Looking At Art

Something in our brain responds when we look at a painting. That experience refreshes and changes us. Afterwards we are more creative and open to learning. We are less mentally fatigued.

Our brains are primed for enjoying art.

For longer than we’ve had the written word, humans have created and stared at images drawn onto walls in the hopes of invoking something — story, awe, remembrance.

Forty thousand years ago, beasts may have been drawn in hopes they’d become more common, or perhaps those images were the work of ancient shamans, trying to account for some mysterious spirit vision.

We don’t know exactly why we started doing it but we persist in making and looking at visual art to this day. And while we can only theorize about what inspired us to start making art, modern research helps us understand something about what’s going on in our brain when we see it now.


A study published in the June issue of the journal Brain and Cognition looked at the research that neuroscientists have done while scanning the brains of people looking at paintings. In some cases subjects were asked to evaluate the work they looked at, in others they just looked.

Viewing paintings triggered responses in brain regions associated with visual understanding and object recognition, as might be expected, but viewing artwork also was connected to activity associated with emotions, inner thoughts, and learning.

Other research tells us more about how art can change the way we see the world.

In Business Insider’s 21-day self-improvement program, one early assignment involves spending time in a museum — but the point of that isn’t just to have a fun afternoon.

After visiting an art museum, students show stronger critical thinking skills and are more socially tolerant. Much of the research on this topic involves children or young adults but the benefits are consistent, and other research shows that (more general) arts programs may help older adults keep healthy and stave off cognitive decline, though more studies are needed in the area.

Mother's Day

Visiting a museum can relieve mental fatigue and restore the ability to focus in the same way that the outdoors can, according to research from the University of Queensland in Australia — this research wasn’t limited to art museums, which is why the assignment doesn’t require an art museum specifically.

But in general, going to a museum is a novelty-seeking venture, which triggers your brain to be open to learning. Not only does this provide long lasting cognitive benefits, it’s also connected to one of the Big 5 personality traits — openness to experience. This is the trait most associated with creative achievement.

Exposing ourselves to art, this thing that has been a part of human experience for thousands of years, has effects on us.

Writing for the National Endowment of the Arts, Brain Pickings founder Maria Popova described this phenomenon as “the power to transcend our own self-interest, our solipsistic zoom-lens on life, and relate to the world and each other with more integrity, more curiosity, more wholeheartedness.”

Written by Kevin Loria of


Aspen Art Gallery Artist Woodrow Blagg

With utmost care and attention to every detail, Woodrow Blagg creates each of his drawings using only graphite and paper. Demonstrating a mastery of his medium, his photorealistic pieces depict dramatic scenes of life in the West. Growing up in Texas, Blagg developed a deep appreciation for the ongoing rituals of ranch life and cowboy culture. Though he lives in Pennsylvania today, his love for western culture and imagery is as indelible as ever.

Blagg grew up in a family of 10 children, four of whom became artists. You could say creativity and talent is in his blood. We are very excited to introduce our newest piece called, “Mother’s Day” a 30 x 48 inch pencil drawing that depicts a cowboy working with cattle. This powerful image really shows Blagg’s interest in the hard physical labor seen on a ranch as well as his understanding of the anatomy of both humans and cattle.

When we asked Blagg how he chose the title, he remarked that the story of “Mother’s Day” is simple, “The round-up happens every spring on the Waggoners’ Ranch, and for many years I was on this ranch in the spring through Mother’s Day. This image is dedicated to my mother who passed away almost 3 years ago; she was mother of 10 children. Symbolically, this drawing shows mother cows protecting and guarding the baby calves. Ever alert and ready from harm, these mother cows were great portraits for me and a stalwart testament how our mothers’ presence influenced all of us children. It’s a gift to her.”

Mother's Day

Valley Fine Art has a strong collection of Blagg’s works. These are pieces that must be seen to be believed. The cowboys and cows are so realistic in “Open Range” and “Jack O’ Clubs” that you’ll try to rub the dust out of your eyes. Woodrow Blagg has made an impressive mark on the contemporary art scene, far beyond the Western category. We invite you to enjoy these artworks with us in the gallery or online.