Sunday, November 15, 2020


 By Michael Auld

"Where are you from, Honey?” 

Overlooked Amerindian Artists Indigenous to  Washington, DC

Rose Powhatan's Pamunkey/Tauxenent Native Expressionist work titled "Where are you from , Honey?" A Modernist American Indian acrylic painting on stretched skin, 1980s.

The above painting begs the question of Amerindian invisibility with an often asked question that is posed to an indigenous Pamunkey/Tauxenent Native of Washington, DC. The artist, Rose Powhatan carries her Algonquian ancestral name as a statement of indigenous survival. She is an artist/educator retiree from the District of Columbia Public Schools. This Native American Modernist painting also represents an Indigenous Washingtonian's expression of the pervasive issue of local Amerindian anonyminity.

Columbus made the same mistake!


Non-Western art played a pivotal role in the making of modernist painting and sculpture. Indeed, without non-Western influences the art of this century is unimaginable.

-- "Affinities and Influences: Native American Art and American Modernism” at the Montclair Art Museum. 

The Modernist Art Movement derived their unique, world influencing works with the “incorporation of Native American artistic aesthetics in creating the new form of visual expression, [which created] America’s Modern art movement.”—Influences of Amerindian Art,

A Link To Powhatan Paramontcy Visual Aesthetics: 

From early adulthood, Rose was the target of the above titled inquiry throughout her young life. The question usually came from both Black and White elderly female passengers riding Washington's DC Transit (now the MetroBus). As if this imposition was not bad enough, early this year, her Diné (Navajo) daughter-in-law, was mistaken for a Hispanic in a Columbia, Maryland park while with her young children. During this period of heightened American racial divisiveness, she was approached by an African American woman who ironically said, "Why don't you go back home?"

Native Americans come in a variety of ethnic types, facial physiognomies and colors, and their ethnicity is often misidentified by the average person. Some suffer the Columbus inspired misidentification as Indians from the subcontinent. For example, Rose, while on a Fulbright teacher exchange to England in school year 1994-95, was mugged three times in London by one Brit and two Jamaicans. The police called it "Packi-bashing," i.e., attacking an East Asian.

The title of this article is an Indigenous Washingtonian artist’s visual statement refuting the city's pervasive myth of indigenous "ethnic extinction." This article is the second part of a month-long celebration by the Powhatan Museum of the lives of WashingtonDC's indigenous Native American survivors. This week, we focus on the art of Rose Powhatan a Pamunkey/Tauxenent descendant who has spent all her 74 years of life in her native city. She comes from a large indigenous family of over 30 local artists who have made their marks in a variety of creative forums. (See Notes below.)

Rose Powhatan was born into a large DC family of accomplished artists. Each family member had their own style of painting, a hallmark of individualistic familial competition. Rose’s main painting style differed greatly from both her mother, Georgia (who often used Impressionism) and her sister, Marsha (whose medical illustrations are rooted in Realism). Rose’s work is in the genre of Native American Modernism, a style of American art which includes many notable American Indians whose commercial successes developed a few centuries after European contact. 


"The term Indigenous Modernism refers to art that emulates Western modernisms, but to art that engages with experiences of modernity from an Indigenous perspective." -- Ian McClean, Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism

Their style of work was based in Indigenous Amerindian art aesthetic. A colorist, her painting,Where are you from, honey?,was created on a sacred circle as a social statement in the Expressionist style of Native American geometric, flat color palate that influenced the Modernist America Art Movement of the early 1940s. The central images are a masked buckskin clothed figure wearing a Powhatan Paramontcy pendant.

Rose’s Native expressionist painting was done as both therapy and as a social statement. Some visual artists often use art to confront life’s physic wounding or as a political way of informing the audience about cultural retentions. In this case, misidentification based on ignorance of Amerindian racial physical appearance was the source of the problem.


This painting is also rooted in the issues of a myth of extinction. It addresses public disbelief in survival of Indignity. Therapeutically, it confronts the pervasive issues experienced by many indigenous Amerindians.

The painting’s title stems from a curious perennial question from seemingly sweet Black and White old ladies riding the city bus, whose reaction to her answer, “I’m Native American,” often turned to disappointing shock. Thinking that Rose was a foreigner, these interrogators have usually just looked away in disgust or disbelief. 


Rose is often left to muse, “It is one thing to be a stranger in a strange land. It is another to be made a stranger in your own land.”


Her Native American styled composition is in the shape of a sacred stretched skin circle, and addresses the painful question asked of her while riding the old DC Transit bus line and its successor, the MertoBus 



The District of Columbia houses many art collections that are mostly aesthetically European in style and content. Most of the city’s museums are mainly Eurocentric, save for the Smithsonian’s Museum of African Art, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the National Museum of the American Indian. Only one of the city’s many major museums has just one artwork, a painting done by the local indigenous artist, Georgia Mills Jessup (Pamunkey). The National Women’s Museum has her “Rainy Night Downtown,” is in its permanent collection. Georgia's painting (see Notes below) is an indigenous statement of an Amerindian descendant's impression of a nighttime scene in her ancestral city.


One would think that these hallowed cultural institutions would have more than just one artwork by only one artist whose hometown was built on her ancestral Powhatan Paramountcy. These overlooked indigenous Washingtonian's ancestors have been in the Eastern Woodland area for over 12,000 years.  

So, what does Washingtonian Amerindian art look like? 


Indigenous art native to WashingtonDC never disappeared, it just took different forms. The city's indigenous descendants always expressed themselves in the traditional and changing art forms which came to Attan Akamik, their Algonquian "Our Fertile Country." However, it was not until Rose and her mother came along that Native local American Indian aesthetics influences from their own culture were intentionally pursued. Rose's mother's works below exhibit these indigenous aesthetic, as does her mother's composition, "Shaman.” 

"Shaman." A mixed media montage by Georgia Mills Jessup. From the collection of Marsha Jessup.

Thirty-odd artists and counting... 


Two main families, originating from the Mills/Miles (Pamunkey) and Boston (Tauxenent) continued to be creative, and successful in their various arts disciplines. At one count in the 1960s, there were at least 29 recorded family members who practiced various art-forms. Today, that number has increased.


Rose was born into a prolific artistic DC Area family. She began her art career at her mother's knees, an accomplished world-class painter, Georgia Mills Jessup, by painting murals with her. An art major at DC's first career high school, McKinley Tech, she majored in painting under DC Color School's Sam Gilliam. As an undergraduate painting/art history major/minor and post graduate art educator, she studied at DC's major universities under historic art professionals. (See her educational and career accomplishments in the NOTES below). 


Musical disciplines within this large family of local Native descended arts practitioners have included the operatic career of *Madam Lilian Evanti, to Robert Mills WWII troop entertainment band, to Juaquin Jessup’s lead guitar role with the iconic Mandrill funk band. A book would be needed to cover the accomplishments of this talented Indigenous DC Area family. 


Just for starters, the family’s arts disciplines include painting, sculpture, medical illustration, music, poetry, writing, art education, arts law, art therapy, and television production.

Rose Powhatan’s Indigenous Washingtonian



The "Storyteller" is an autobiographic colorist composition that depicts one of the artist's talents.

"Chickahominy Dancers", Cousins Linora and Troy Adkins at their nation's
annual powwow, Charles City, VA.

"Turtle Island" is the Native American name for the North American continent.Rose incorporated images from Powhatan's Mantle, believed to be a map of the symbol for Attan Akamik ("Our Fertile Country") 

"So We Too" is a Native American colored serigraph print that made a statement about the universility of the displacement of indigenous people in their own homelands. It was Rose's Native American contribution to an Africobra travelling exhibition durinfg the South African Apartied era.

Pocahontas Unmasked”, Rose Powhatan A hand colored computer generated graphic. Click on the YouTube link to see Rose's Museum of the Shenandoah Valley 2018 gallery talk on Pocahontas in the traveling exhibition titled "Hear my voice: Native American Art of the Past and Present.” (YouTube 

"Michabo and the Great Deer'" story shield montage composed of a deer skull mounted on fire engraved buckskin. This illustrated Algonquian story tells how Men and Women were spread around the world by Michabo the Great Hare,
the Bringer of the Light.

"A Warrior's Memories of Days Past"; A funerary installation at the Maryland University of Baltimore's Art Gallery which included: (Top: L-R) A Powhatan totem, wall hung enlarged computer generated Secotan Village (DeBrey etching), and Powhatan longhouse made from bamboo and reeds inside of which was a burial liter. Named for the deadly misuse of sacred tobacco, promoted by the Philip Morris Cigarette Company.


From the traditional to the contemporary

Algonquian totem poles were captured in John White's 1585 watercolors of the Secotan people of North Carolina. Rose is the first Native American artist to have revived her Algonquian totem pole tradition in order to make contemporary statements.

"Firewoman Warrior" is a totem to Rose's Tauxenent ancestor, werowanska (leader) Keziah Powhatan who, along with her warriors, twice burned down the Fairfax County Courthouse in 1752, twenty-four years before the American Independence. Her beef was with the English Colonial Government whose King Charles II (an English slavery benefactor) had "given" her people's ancestral land to his wild cousin, Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron. Never married, Lord Fairfax is also distantly related to Rose. The DAR placed a plaque at Tyson's Corner, VA to mark the moving of the courthouse, because of "Indian hostilities."

Rose Powhatan's Keziah Powhatan totem "Firewoman Warrior," and her
"Dreamcatcher" installation, Fondo del Sol Museum's "Still Here: Celebrating 49,500 years before Columbus" Native American exhibition.

(L) John White's 1585 Dance Circle watercolor of Secotan, North Carolina. (R) One of six of Rose & Michael's traditional styled totem, researched and executed for the Powhatan Village at the Jamestown Festival Park, Virginia.


Telling traditional stories is a major hallmark of keeping Amerindian culture. How the world works and the origin of all things are major Native American storytelling themes. As a "Wisdom Keeper," Rose has retained these aspects of her Algonquian culture in illustration, painting, totemic sculpture
and the spoken word. Rose has kept ancient Algonquian tradition alive at various venues in Attan Akamik.

(A) Among her other talents Rose, an avid storyteller, has kept the Algonquian culture of the  Eastern Woodlands alive.

Using her story totems to inform the public at Riverbend Park's anual Native American 
The smaller fire engraved totem relates a pictographic tale of the Algonquian
culture hero,
Michabo the Great Hare and the Great Flood story

(L-R) "Michabo and the Great Flood" story: Michabo the Great Hare finds that the
world is flooded. When the water recedes, Michabo sends out Raven to try to find
dryland. Raven is unsuccessful. So, he sends out Muskrat. She is successful.
So he marries Muskrat... And this is where men and women came from.

Above: Pamunkey inspired pictographic story from above totem pole's frontal shaft.


Some accomplished members of this DC artistic family


(1) * Lillian Evanti (August 12, 1890 – December 6, 1967), 

was an American opera singer. Her stage name was a combination of both

her DC family and married names, Evans-Tibbs. 

(2) Georgia Mills Jessup (Pamunkey), a prolific artist, DCPS

educator/administrator, was the 13th child of 21 children from a DC family of

over 30-odd practitioners in the arts. Below, she stands next to

"Rainy Night Downtown." a painting in the permanent

collection of DC's National Museum of Women in the Arts. 


(3) Alexei Boston Auld (Pamunkey/Tauxenent) is a lawyer for the arts

and an author has published many books.

(Above) Alexei Boston Auld and four of his many books, two of which are insider's
Native themes.

(4) Go to Powhatan Museum's Honor Roll to see more on
David Mills (Pamunkey) and Bernie Boston (Tauxenent)


David Mills (Pamunkey), DC Journalist, Screen Writer/Producer of HBO Miniseries “Kingpin,”
The Corner.” and “NYPD Blue.”.                                                           


Bernie Boston (Tauxenent), News photographer, with his Pulitzer nominated 
Vietnam era photo, "Flower Power."


(5) Record album, Back row: Second from right, Juaquin Jessup (Pamunkey), lead guitar for iconic funk band, Mandrill, an American funk band from Brooklyn, New York, formed in 1968 by brothers Carlos, Lou, and Ric Wilson. 

(6) Rose Powhatan's Education and Art Career:
McKinley High School, Washington, D. C., Art Major Program;
Howard University, Washington, D.C., BFA (Painting/Art History) Cum Laude, MA (Art Education/Art History); Georgetown University, Washington, D.C, Graduate Studies in Humanities; Catholic University, Washington, D.C., Graduate Studies in History; University of the District of Columbia, Graduate Studies in History/Education/Administration; Trinity College, Washington, D.C., Graduate Studies in Education and Advanced Literature; University of London, Graduate Studies in Education

Exhibiting Artist, Lecturer and Workshop Facilitator/Coordinator of multicultural programs for the following: (this is a select listing)

  • District of Columbia Public Schools
  • Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
  • Wolf Trap Foundation International Children's Festival
  • Virginia Museum of Natural History
  • Chickahominy Tribe, VA
  • Upper Mattaponi Tribe, VA
  • Piscataway Tribe, MD
  • Nottoway Tribe, VA
  • George Marshall School of Law (College of William and Mary)
  • Jamaica Nationals Association, Washington, D.C.
  • Caribbean American Intercultural Organization, Washington, D.C.
  • American Indian Society of Washington, D.C.
  • Monacan Tribe, VA
  • 14th International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, at the College of William and Mary
  • Accohannock Tribe, MD

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