Rosalie Clair McGowan took the long road to find an ancient Plains Indian art form that she is taking to new levels. In this  podcast with Margy Dudley on the Four Corners Art Forum, she shares that story better than I can, but I’ll give you a Cliffs Notes version with my thoughts about it here. We are very excited to add this artist to the Toh-Atin Gallery family.

There are people in this world who know from an early age what they want to do with their lives. For most of them, it never happens. Real life, families, children, rent, and a million other things cause dreamers to take a different fork in the road.

Once you take that different path, it is hard to break away and return to your original goal. Most people find something else that means more to them. McGowan has taken many detours on her trip but has returned to that original path.

Before she was a teenager, she did pencil drawings and paintings beyond her years. It just came naturally. She attributes part of that to her third-grade teacher, who taught her about painting, but the composition and ability to move life from the world to paper were always innate abilities.

As she grew older, she married and had a son, got involved in the corporate world, and discovered her ability to lead and guide people. She and her son moved to the Durango area, where she was one of the first remote executives with a national team-building company. She got involved in real estate, began managing local properties, and was moving up the ladder of success.

Her love of creating art was on the back shelf.


A friend who knew she was artistic told her she should take a class from Mick Reber, a professor at Fort Lewis College in Durango because he was about to retire. Reber was a well-established artist whose work was collected by people worldwide. He was also a teacher who loved sharing art history and teaching art classes.

College seemed like the thing to do then, so she enrolled at the Fort. One of the classes she signed up for was figure drawing from Reber. He not only ignited her desire to pursue art, but he also ignited her soul, and they fell in love. They moved to Texas when he retired from Fort Lewis, where he continued his art career. They were connected until he died in 2019.

The hard work and the loss of several important people in her life finally caught up with her. She ended up physically sick and had to take a couple of years off. When she came back, it was with a different mindset.

She had made jewelry, worked with pencil and pastels, and painted, but she found her medium by accident when she and Mick were on a trip through the Texas hill country. In a store in Fredricksburg, she saw a Longhorn skull for sale. She was attracted to it, bought it, and packed it around until she moved back to Durango.

After her mother passed, she began attaching items of memory about her mom to the skull. As it evolved, it became a tribute to her mother, but it also gave her insight into the strength and power that artwork could communicate through the skull.


In Plains Indian culture, buffalo skulls are often displayed as symbols of reverence and respect. They decorated the outside of teepees and lodges and were often painted with tribal symbols attached to feathers and beads. The buffalo provided food, clothing, and hides for moccasins, and their hides were used as “canvases” for painting the people's history.

The decorated skulls were among a Plains family’s most prized possessions.McGowan views her work with the skulls with reverence for the animal and its contribution to the world.  She considers it honoring the animal by “continuing its life cycle through artistic impression.”


More about Rosalis and her Art