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First Voices Original Painting by Sammy Jo Bird: Tséhésenéstsestotse

Thresh commissions original artwork by artists with the First Nations community. Please support our efforts to engage more artists and continue the First Voices program by purchasing paintings like Tséhésenétsesttse.

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Sammy Jo Bird’s three-part canvas Tséhésenéstsesttse depicts the Northern Cheyenne Creation Story of The Big Dipper, or the constellation Ursa Major. Commissioned by Thresh in December 2020, the artist was inspired after listening to elder Ruthie Shoulderblade tell the constellation story in her Native Cheyenne language. Bird describes the words of the elder as “brushstrokes” that wash over the listener.


The work is comprised of three canvases, which reflect the unique experience of listening to the creation story. According to Bird, the painting has a “build-up” or a beginning, climax, and ending, just like the narrative. She paints in acrylic with various application methods, including several key symbolic elements from the tale: the teepee, devil’s tower, river, bear tracks, and bear.


Indigenous stories are often told in the evening, which is reflected in Bird’s artistic decision to paint the scene at nighttime. The night sky’s magical quality takes on an appearance similar to the Northern Lights, highlighting the Big Dipper constellation. Bird’s work calls attention to another Cheyenne art form: beadwork. The sides of the center canvas are decorated in ornate beaded patterns, modeled on traditional Cheyenne beading in which specific colors and patterns take on their own significance.

Learn more and purchase this work here.

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