Fame doesn't always see us the way we see ourselves.
Native American artist Michael Horse, whose paintings and jewelry take center stage at the Gathering Tribes gallery on Solano Avenue in Albany, considers himself mainly as an artist.
But when he and his wife, Gathering Tribes owner Pennie Opal Plant, go out to, say, a restaurant, there's a good chance that strangers will see him as Deputy Hawk from the critically acclaimed TV series, Twin Peaks.
It was one of many roles that he has played in Hollywood and in the Canadian film industry, a career that began when he was as horse trainer. A film director asked if he could take over for a stuntman who was having trouble falling off a horse.
The young horse trainer couldn't believe he could get paid for what came easily – "I fall off a horse and get a check?" – so he readily agreed.
Artist, actor and stuntman aren't the only roles that Horse has played in his 63 years so far. He lectures and speaks to college classes and serves on the board of the American Indian Film Institute. And he also counts activist. He joined the Native American occupation of Alcatraz, for example.
But it's as an artist in jewelry, painting and sculpture that he most identifies, he said.
When Patch showed up for an interview at Gathering Tribes last week, Horse was working on a painting of the type known as "ledger art," drawings and paintings on scrap paper, often old ledger pages, that Native Americans used for recording their deeds and stories after the Europeans came, Horse said.
The piece that Horse was painting is titled "Get Out and Stay Out," showing a Native American woman in the opening of a tepee tossing out the belongings of a Native American man as he runs away.
Horse notes that the image is thematically linked to the paper that he's painting on – a 1910 divorce document from Oklahoma.
Horse, who lives in San Pablo, says he's probably best known for ledger art, and that his work is distinguished from traditional ledger art by his connecting the art to the text on the document.
He traces the origin of the form to the 1800s when Native Americans were forced onto reservations.
"Imagine you're a very free person, and your boundaries are where the buffalo and wind go – and then you're told you have to go live on this square."
At the same time, Native Americans found they had access to abundant scraps of paper. "Anything that was around – old maps, love letters – gave more opportunity to the Native Americans to start chronicling their lives," he said. This "ledger" folk art recorded courtship, hunting and acts of bravery, Horse said.
Horse said he has continued the art form while also introducing an innovation starting 20 years ago. "I started relating it to the text," he said.
Horse, who was born near Tucson and traces his ancestry to Mescalero, Yaqui, Zuni and European stock, studied sculpture in Sante Fe before moving to California.
His work is displayed in several galleries and museums around the country, including the Torquoise Tortoise in Sedona, Little Bird at Loretto in Sante Fe, Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indiananapolis and the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, Mont.
And for the 18th year, his art will appear in the Annual Marin Show: Art of the Americas, Feb. 22-24, at the Marin Civic Center and Embassy Suites in San Rafael.
Asked how he managed to distinguish himself in several different fields, Horse replied, "I have a tenth grade education. If I don't have something to do, I'd be asking, 'Do you want fries with that?'"