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Native American family comes to Bandera to stay

Story & photos By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Wr

During the last couple of months, a Native American family has been coming to life on a four-panel mural adjoining the parking lot of Dr. Margo Denke's new office complex on 12th Street across from the post office.
Native-American artist Dennis Eagle Horse has applied his creative talents and practical skills to produce a work of art that will be a boon to Bandera for years to come.
Eagle Horse has painted murals before, but this one offered him some challenges. "I'm using a new kind of paint, specially formulated for murals on concrete, so I'm having to learn some new techniques." The new paint is like an acrylic and dries very quickly. "I'm more familiar with oil paints," said Eagle Horse. "It is slower drying so you can come back to it later and make changes easily." But the new paint doesn't worry him. "I like the challenge of trying something new."
The specially formulated paints Eagle Horse is using on the mural are inorganic mineral paints from Eco-House Inc. Natural Products, a company based in New Brunswick, Canada. It is designed for use on absorbent surfaces only, such as concrete, plaster, masonry, natural stone, adobe and drywall. Denke selected it in part because it is solvent-free, is extremely durable and it made from abundant raw materials. The paint does not form a film, but bonds by penetrating into the surface.
The mural commissioned by Denke is a four-panel piece that depicts a typical Lakota Sioux family traveling. The first panel portrays a man with his horse. "I'll probably add a quiver of arrows to show him as the provider for the family," Eagle Horse explained as he worked on the panel one sunny January afternoon. The artist used one of his three sons as the model for the piece.
"In the old days, the men were the providers. The young men were sent out with one arrow and they had to come back with game. They were taught to take only what they would eat or use. The old ways honor the animals, the earth."
The second panel depicts another horse pulling a loaded travois, carrying all of the family's goods along with the teepee's outer covering and liner. Two of the poles may have been used as part of the travois, but the other poles would likely have been left in the summer and winter lodging locations, Eagle Horse explained.
In the third panel a Lakota mother stands with her young daughter holding a treasured doll. "The women led the horse with the goods," explained Eagle Horse, "and set up the teepee when they arrived at their destination."
The final panel depicts two spirited paint ponies, at the special request of Denke.
To prepare for the project, Eagle Horse sketched out the outlines of the four panels on paper. After coating the surface with a clear primer, he transferred the sketches to the large concrete wall slabs, using white primer. He uses his hands as measuring tools. "If the horse is this wide," he said, stretching out his arms, "I know the legs have to be so many hands long to be right."
In the next step, Eagle Horse covers all the white primer with color, tweaking the design as he works. "To see the true colors, I like to work at mid-day when the light is best. I had touched up part of the horse's gear with a yellow late one afternoon and came back later and realized it was way too yellow."
Born in 1947 in a wagon on the way to a clinic near Lower Brule, South Dakota, Eagle Horse's birth certificate notes his place of birth as "Lyman County."
Although he spent much of his early life on the reservation, Eagle Horse and his family have been Bandera County residents for years, making his work familiar in its beauty, spirituality and accuracy of depiction of the Native American traditions. He displays his paintings and sculptural pieces at local festivals and the Bandera Market Days, held the first Saturday of the month on the courthouse lawn. For three years, he has created an original painting for the cover of the collectible program for the Celebrate Bandera Circle of Life Intertribal Powwow.
Eagle Horse says he has been painting and doing art almost all of his life. A priest at the Catholic boarding school he attended on the reservation recognized his talent and encouraged it. In addition, he learned welding and other practical skills that have allowed him to always provide for his family.
"Life on the reservation is hard. So many there are under the influence of alcohol and drugs. I go back and they ask, 'Uncle, how do you do it? How did you get away'?"
With the wisdom of years, the artist advises them to develop and use their skills. "I tell them take it one step at a time, use good manners in dealing with people, and they can make it."

Pictured: After applying a clear primer over the surface of the concrete panels, Dennis Eagle Horse sketched his work on the concrete wall panels using white primer. He applies color to the first panel in his mural.