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Woman of Vision: Artwork by Apolonia Susana Santos (1954-2006)

As a painter, sculptor, and writer, Susana Santos was dedicated to interpreting the rich legacy of Native people. She was also a tireless advocate for the rights of indigenous children and tribal fishing. Her artwork is a vibrant depiction of the Native world using rich colors to create dynamic landscapes and a deep narrative that illuminates historic and contemporary memories. From her signature hats to her inspiring giggle, Susana was a remarkable creator of beauty with an authentic vision.

Apolonia’s untimely passing at age 52, leaves a void in the world of Native American Art. Though small in stature, she stood large in life as she painted, sculpted and created strategies toward social change for Native Youth. She fought diligently to protect traditional fishing and sovereignty rights of her People.

A member of the Tygh Band and Yakama Nation, her ancestral homelands are located along the Des Chutes River at Tlxni (Falls of a Woman’s Hair) also called Shearers Bridge. She held great pride in her Traditional fishing family and encouraged all who fished to respect the River and the Salmon. She was an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

Her Art

Susana’s paintings and serigraphs often contain the dramatic and diverse landscape and sky of the High Desert. Snowstorms and the elements of wind, water, Sun and Moon appear with vigor. Her artistic interpretation of Salmon, Coyote and Big Horn Sheep express how strongly she was connected to her homelands. Interpretation of Native Women and Men in Traditional dress always has a contemporary flair. Her desire to preserve Indigenous ways and memory is apparent in her artwork and her activism.

“I am of the Tygh and Yakama Nations through my Matrilineal line. My heritage as a Traditional Fishing Woman has led me to understand the natural sciences and the study of the relationship between medicinal and healing arts. This living legacy of ceremonial practice is a rich source of knowledge that guides me. This is the basis of my artistic philosophy”

—A. Susana Santos