Seminole Pride: The Artwork of Jimmy Osceola
Have you been to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum yet this year? Coming on the heels of the amazing Art of Seminole Crafts exhibit is an innovative, new exhibit. Seminole Pride: The Art Work of Jimmy Osceola explores Osceola’s long and winding career, life, and legacy. This week, join us to get a peek behind the exhibit, the artist, and the art! But, to get the full experience and view these precious pieces, visit the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. This installation will be up through March 2023. So, make time to see this one of a kind exhibit before it leaves!
All of the pieces in this exhibit are originals and many are privately owned. Subsequently, we will not show any reproducible images of the paintings in this post. We encourage you to visit the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum and explore this exciting, visually arresting exhibit for yourself!
This ambitious exhibit features thirty original selections that span Osceola’s multi-decade career. This is the largest installation to exhibit at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. This exhibit features Osceola’s art on loan from Marcella Billie, the Assistant Director of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, the office of Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola, and Carolyn Billie, Osceola’s widow. Osceola’s work has also never been exhibited at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. So, this could be your only chance to view these originals! As you peruse the exhibit, we encourage you to give each piece the time and contemplation it deserves, and help celebrate this wonderful artist’s priceless contributions.
A 2015 Seminole Tribune article detailed a show Osceola was featured in at the New River Inn in Fort Lauderdale. In it, Osceola described a technique of his, “It’s called pioneer, going on site for two and half hours and painting. Since they’re done in two and a half hours, you have to scale it down, then later touch them up in the studio.” Osceola’s self-taught, unique, and organic approach to art and painting shines through each piece. From portraits, landscapes, and snapshots of Seminole life, Osceola’s pieces all showcase his particular style and artistry. Osceola stated in a 2019 Seminole Media Productions interview that “I don’t have a regular technique, just trial and error.” Additionally, he emphasized that more traditional styles of learning art didn’t mesh with his style. Osceola noted he “tried to take a class one time, that didn’t work out.”
Jimmy Osceola’s Legacy
In 2017, Osceola won the Natural Resources Conservation Services poster contest with an entry depicting Seminoles at Lake Okeechobee. In a Seminole Tribune article about the win, Osceola said, “Being a tribal member and Native American is the most inspiring thing to me. When I was painting it, I wasn’t thinking about winning, I just thought that as a Seminole of Florida, showing the lake would be good for heritage month.” Osceola’s work celebrates just that – being a Seminole of Florida, and the pride and connection to these natural spaces that comes with that. Osceola describes art as something he needed, saying “the Man Up Above gives you something to get through life – that’s what it was for me.” For him, showing scenes of Seminole people, camp life, and Florida landscapes were empowering, and emphasized that “We are still here, and alive, and surviving.”
Our featured image this week shows a slice of one of Osceola’s pieces installed in the exhibit. It depicts Seminole warriors Coe-hajo, Osceola, Billy Bowlegs, and Micanopy. Below it is the tagline for the exhibit, with Jimmy Osceola’s own signature. This piece is located in the Nook gallery, which also hosts a video produced by Seminole Media Productions from 2019 (mentioned above). In it, SMP interviews Osceola about his legacy, his art, and being an inspiration for other artists. Osceola stated, “I hope it helps – it gives our young people something to visualize how our people were…something to live by.” Osceola’s legacy is one of encouragement and pride in what it means to be a Seminole artist. In the same interview, Osceola notes he wasn’t trying to be an inspiration. He said “I wasn’t trying to teach anybody, just put myself out there to encourage.”
In the press release for Seminole Pride, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum emphasized Osceola’s message, stating “[Osceola] felt it was important to show the Seminole people surviving, developing their culture and loving each other. He hoped his art would help the younger generation to visualize how their people developed to what it is today and to remember the Seminole cultural history.” Designing and organizing the exhibit was a labor of love and innovation. Osceola’s art and legacy are purposeful and important. Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Director Gordon Wareham had worked with Osceola in the past. Wareham knew Osceola was particular about how his art was displayed and viewed. Each painting had a purpose, and the goal of this exhibit was to give each piece room to live on its own. Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Head of Exhibitions Jim Patrick knew that doing Osceola’s work justice would take some thinking outside of the box.
Patrick was tasked with creating an exhibition worthy of Osceola’s work, which “celebrated Seminole life as it was before modern times.” Osceola’s art takes over two-thirds of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. It connects the Nook, Mosaic, and East galleries via the wall space in between. Trailing across curved wall space, each piece hangs separately with breathing room.
Yet, it is easy to see the cultural pride, artistry, and talent that thematically connects each piece. It is one of the largest and most ambitious exhibits to date, and it was a challenge to give each piece the space it deserves. The Mosaic gallery, which has hosted dozens of pieces in the past, features only three of Osceola’s across from one of his wood carvings. Osceola was a thoughtful Seminole artist, with his own unique technique celebrating Seminole life and subjects. So, it is no surprise that this exhibit is as unique as it is.
All thirty pieces within this exhibit are originals. The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum takes great pride in being stewards of these precious pieces. The Museum asks that guests do not take photographs of any of the pieces on display. When you visit, do your best to not lean on any of the railings below the paintings. Do not touch any part of the exhibit space. The biggest obstacle Jim Patrick, Head of Exhibitions, encountered was fulfilling his intimate vision while keeping the pieces safe. They ask for your help in doing this, by being respectful and cognizant of these priceless pieces. Seminole Pride: The Artwork of Jimmy Osceola will run through March 2023.
Coming with children or a school group? A companion worksheet, intended to inspire children’s critical thinking and reasoning skills, has been created to go along with the Seminole Pride: the Artwork of Jimmy Osceola exhibit. Contact the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museums Education Coordinator, Abena Robinson, for information on how to make the most of your educational exhibit experience.
Check back in a few months for information on the next temporary exhibit at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. Seeing Red: Missing Murdered Indigenous Women will open May 5, 2023.
Originally from Washington state, Deanna Butler received her BA in Archaeological Sciences from the University of Washington in 2014. Deanna moved to South Florida in 2016. Soon, she began working for the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office. Deanna was the THPO’s Archaeological Collections Assistant from 2017-2021. While at the THPO, Deanna worked to preserve, support, and process the Tribe’s archaeological collection. She often wrote the popular Artifact of the Month series, and worked on many community and educational outreach programs. She lives in Fort Myers, FL with her husband, son, and dog.