Education professor’s lifelong interest in artist pays off with lectures, new biography
As a young boy growing up in Australia, Education professor Gregory Bryan was fascinated with stories of North America’s Indigenous peoples.
Bryan said he read books and watched movies about traditional Indigenous stories. When he moved to the United States and began taking his education degree at Brigham Young University in Utah he took his first children’s literature course, and in researching children’s books, he says he “stumbled across” a book by American children’s book illustrator and writer Paul Goble. Goble has spent much of his career retelling traditional stories in the form of richly illustrated children’s books. His works chronicle stories from Great Plains groups, including the American Lakota, Cheyenne, Blackfoot and Crow. Because of his own interest in Native American stories, Bryan was drawn to the work of Goble.
“That changed my life,” said Bryan.
Fast forward to 2016, when Bryan will soon see his biography of Goble published, entitled Wóoyake Wičháša – Storyteller: The life and work of Paul Goble, by South Dakota State Historical Society Press, along with another book which is a commentary on a collection of Goble’s paintings housed in the South Dakota Art Museum. Bryan is also working on the accompanying write-ups and catalogue for a travelling exhibition of Goble’s works, which is set to commence in January 2017.
Bryan’s work on Goble also piqued the interest of the University Women’s Club of Winnipeg recently. On April 19, he presented some of his research and work on Goble to the UWC.
In his presentation, Bryan spoke about Goble’s life and career. Some of the members had not heard of Goble but were delighted to find out about his work.Bryan read one of his books aloud and showed numerous pieces of his artwork. In researching the book on 82-year-old Goble, Bryan has travelled to South Dakota, where Goble now lives, numerous times to visit with him and to gather information on his books and artwork.
He was able to tell the UWC members some of the “stories behind the stories” of some of the pictures in the children’s books. Along with being an accomplished artist, Goble has a collection of thousands of photos of Native American artefacts, which he used to make his illustrations as authentic as possible.
“We talked about the fact that Paul has always been very meticulous about ensuring the accuracy of his depictions…I showed them several instances of one of his paintings and then showed them a photo and the design is identical. He thinks it is disrespectful to be anything but accurate.”
Bryan said the UWC audience was especially interested in some of similarities they saw between Goble’s work on traditional Native American stories and Indigenous culture and stories from Canada. Bryan said he has always greatly admired the artist because he has such a respect for Indigenous groups.
“What he is trying to do is in some way celebrate and honour the people and the stories that he is telling. He doesn’t want anything to be inaccurate.”
Bryan noted while there have been some critics of Goble’s work because he is not Native American, he has been welcomed and celebrated by many others of that ancestry and has been adopted into two Native American tribes.
Bryan said he finds Goble’s style of storytelling and illustrating compelling. Goble grew up partially influenced by Japanese printmaking as his mother was a fan of the artform. As well, his great grandfather was a founder of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and was a curator and in charge of acquisitions.
“There was this art connection in his lineage. Art was valued,” said Bryan.
Goble was born in England and, much like Bryan, became fascinated with Native American culture through books and movies as a child. He first visited the United States in 1959 and spent most of his time on reservations in South Dakota and Montana, cementing his lifelong interest in the stories and artwork of Plains tribes. After several more visits he then emigrated to the United States from the U.K. in 1977Some of his works include The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses, Mystic Horse and Custer’s Last Battle.
Bryan finds it coincidental that his life and and Goble’s life have strong similarities—both have left their native countries for North America and both have a strong interest in Indigenous culture and stories.
He says he feels extremely lucky to have been able to write the biography and to spend time with Goble—who has always been “staggeringly humble.”
“He has always insisted from the start that nobody would be interested in this and I have insisted that they would be.
“…I have been privileged to work with him in the manner that I have, but also to have been an advocate for him and his work—helping people to become aware of his wonderful work and his amazing life.”