Donald Vann is a full-blood Cherokee born near Stillwater, Oklahoma, in 1949. He is a quiet man who grew up feeling very comfortable being alone. His grandparents were instrumental in teaching him the ways of the tribe and instilling in him an appreciation for the stories of his ancestors.

Always drawn to painting, Vann’s subjects reflected his desire to share the emotions and stories of his people. As a young man, he was befriended and helped by Jerome Tiger, a Muscogee Creek-Seminole artist and a groundbreaker in Native painting.


White Buffalo

Vann never graduated from high school. He felt that education interfered with learning, but he joined the Job Corps and obtained his GED before returning to work with Tiger and his agent, Nettie Wheeler. When Donald was 15, Tiger died, and Wheeler promoted Vann’s painting, successfully selling it across the country.

Vietnam interrupted Vann’s art career. Returning to the states, he met Ted Pearsall, who owned Ni-Wo-Di-Hi Gallery in Austin, Texas. Pearsall was a promoter, and in addition to his gallery, he published many limited editions of paintings by Native artists, including Virginia Stroud, Antoine Warrior, Jerry Ingram, and more.

It was a good collaboration, and Vann became one of the most popular print artists, with over 50 sold-out editions. His work has won awards at every Native American art show, and his originals are hard to find.


Trail of Tears

I met Donald in Oklahoma City when he connected with Pearsall at an Indian Arts and Crafts Association meeting. He joined the association and was a major exhibitor at their markets, and the Santa Fe, Heard, and Red Earth shows. His booth was always filled with paintings sold early in the day. There were always crowds around his booth, waiting to visit with him. His work resonates with people who appreciate Native American history and culture.

He also tries to help worthy causes and has donated hundreds of prints and paintings over the years.

What I always like about his work is that there is more to his paintings than appears at first glance. In White Buffalo, you notice the man grieving his lost friend, while in the distance, you see another burial and the White Buffalo waiting to take the dead man’s spirit. In Trail of Tears, one of Vann’s favorite subjects, you can feel the cold while the faint outline of the moon sits above the trail in the sky.


Cry of the Kindred Spirit

In the print, Cry of the Kindred Spirit, the canyon mirrors the image of the howling wolf. In front of him, the Cherokee people are moving through the snow on the Trail of Tears.

You don’t often see originals of Vann’s for sale, and the print, Cry of the Kindred Spirit, has been sold out for decades. These are very nicely framed pieces by one of Native America’s most accomplished artists.