Art Works Blog

The Living Cultural Heritage of Idaho

April 6, 2010
Boise, ID

Continuing our look at the arts in Idaho, today we?re featuring two NEA National Heritage Fellows?Dale Harwood, a saddle maker from Shelley; and Horace P. Axtell, a Nez Perce drum maker, singer, tradition-bearer from Lewiston?both of whom received their honors in 2008.

Dale Harwood. Photo courtesy of Mr. Harwood

Dale Harwood opened his first saddle shop in Idaho Falls in 1961 and later moved it to his hometown of Shelley, Idaho. His work is highly sought after internationally. In 1998 he co-founded the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association, a group of master arts seeking to preserve traditional arts.

In a 2008 interview with the NEA, Harwood spoke about how he began making saddles:

?I grew up on a ranch and farm here in southeastern Idaho. The earliest exposure was probably at the age of 12, when I was in sixth grade. I had rheumatic fever and was confined to bed for six months. My dad, to give me something to do, gathered up a piece of marble and made a little bench to go across my bed, and bought me a few stamp tools and kept buying leather. I made everything I could for everybody I could and that's where I got started.?

Horace P. Axtell has been a serious student of the traditional arts all his life. He spent much of his youth listening to and learning from tribal elders, some of whom had survived the 1877 War resulting from President Ulysses Grant's attempts to clear the Nez Perce homeland. Today a respected elder himself, Axtell is a pipe carrier for his tribe and a spiritual leader of the Seven-Drum Religion.

Horace P. Axtell. Photo courtesy of Mr. Axtell

In this excerpt from a 2008 interview with the NEA, Axtell talks about his first encounters with the Nez Perce culture:

?I was an only child. I was raised by my grandmother and my mother. My father was not there. My grandmother never did learn to speak English or read or write, and so I grew up learning my language. I don't remember when I began talking?I just grew up with it. As I got older, I could listen when Grandma's relatives came. I could listen to them tell their stories, and talk, and I could understand all that. I was very fortunate growing up knowing how to understand and how to listen to the language.?

Links to the bios of Harwood and Axtell, as well as the full interviews by Mary Eckstein, are available on the NEA website.

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