Shan Goshorn, Self Portrait in Artist Studio, 1996. Photo: Ernest Amoroso for the National Museum of the American Indian. Click above for more images.

Shan Goshorn (1957–2018)

Shan Goshorn, a Cherokee artist and activist known for her contemporary approach to traditional basket-weaving, died of a rare cancer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on December 1. She was sixty-one years old. Goshorn’s single- and double-weave baskets—made from archival paper printed with historical texts and images such as treaties between the Cherokee and the United States, and maps delineating American Indian lands—often tackle human rights issues and challenge stereotypes.

For one basket, Two Sides of the Same Colonial Coin, Goshorn wove photographic images of bottles of alcohol together with pages from the New Testament that were translated into the Cherokee language; in another, Dark Side of the Day, a copy of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 is featured alongside statistics on incidents of domestic violence among American Indians.

Born in Baltimore on July 3, 1957, Goshorn attended the Cleveland Institute of Art and the Atlanta College of Art, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. In 1981, she moved to Oklahoma where she met Edgar Heap of Birds and Richard Ray Whitman, who prompted her to make political work. One of her first efforts to take on issues facing American Indians turned into the series “Honest Injun,” for which she made black-and-white photographs of commercial products in the 1990s that featured racist imagery.

While Goshorn’s artistic output also includes paintings, photography, glass, and metalwork, the artist said: “I don’t consider myself a basket maker. I don’t consider myself a photographer. I don’t consider myself a jeweler. I don’t consider myself someone who works in glass. I consider myself an artist that chooses the best medium to express a statement.”

Active in her community, Goshorn served on the board of directors of the American Indian Heritage Center in Oklahoma, as the first vice chair of the Native Indian/Inuit Photographers’ Association, as a member of the Greater Tulsa Indian Affairs Commission and the Arts Commission of Tulsa, and as a consultant to the Philbrook Museum of Art for its touring basketry exhibition “Woven Worlds.”

The recipient of numerous honors, Goshorn was awarded a United States Artist Fellowship in 2015 and both a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship and an Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellowship in 2013. Her baskets can be found in the collections of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC; the Denver Art Museum; the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in New Mexico; the Minneapolis Institute of Art in New Mexico; and the Nordamerika Native Museum in Switzerland, among other institutions.

Goshorn’s work is currently on display in the exhibition “Art for a New Understanding: Native Voices, 1950s to Now” at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, as well as at Dickinson College’s Trout Gallery in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.