Yakama tribal member and artist Jon Olney Shellenberger (he/him) brings a unique sense of style to his often sold-out accessories and works of art (cozy up with this Indian taco blanket, for example, or liven up an outfit with these Berry Basket earrings).
He’s also the the owner of Nativeanthro.com, which sells his unique designs in the form of “personalized pieces of wearable history.” Interviewed by Guest Curator Emily Washines (she/her), the artist of 29 years shared where he found inspiration for some of his work. (Read more about Emily in our interview with her here.)
What is the inspiration for the Dancing Ladies ledger art?
It is inspired by my wife and two daughters. They are wearing traditional powwow regalia. One of the ladies is wearing a dentalium cape. The dentalium shell is an important trade item that comes from the Pacific Coast of the U.S. and Canada. This shell is a symbol of wealth for tribes. The ledger is a Yakama Census from 1914 with my great-grandparents and their children. It is my most popular selling artwork that started as a purse and expanded to a range of items.
In Native Cinderella art, you were inspired by a Yakama legend. Tell us about this legend and the importance of connecting culture and art for you.
It’s a legend about the ice age floods that occurred in the Pacific Northwest and that is symbolized by the magpie and the bluejay in the art. It’s also signified by the mountain in the background where our people sought refuge from the floods.
This example is utilized to teach kids about our history in a way that resonates with modern culture. Cinderella is appealing to my daughters, and folding this into something in popular culture makes it more effective for teaching.
What inspired your passion for your work?
I started dancing at powwows at a young age. I started beading at age 12. I have liked to draw since elementary school.
When my mom started her business, I was exposed to a lot of Native art throughout the Northwest and met a lot of artists who had a lot of influence on my work.
Today, I’m a professional anthropologist with a master’s degree in that field, which was a huge influence on my exposure to language, culture, and history, which is present in all my work.