Family history motivates artist

DALLAS -- Paint and a cotton swab connects a Dallas woman to her ancestors and provides release.


The largest influence on Cissy McBeth's artwork is her Native American heritiage

DALLAS -- Paint and a cotton swab connects a Dallas woman to her ancestors and provides release.

Cissy McBeth, 23, has three loves in life -- her 2-year-old son Neka, her family's history, and painting.

McBeth moved from Bakersfield, Calif., to the Willamette Valley when she was young and has called Dallas home since 1991. She attended Dallas and Falls City high schools, but she said her nervousness around others and agoraphobic tendencies made school a tough environment.

To get through the classes, McBeth would draw.

McBeth's mother, Nikki Lynn, said she was called into the principal's office because of her daughter's constant drawing on her hands with pens. She said she told those concerned to leave her be.

"It's the only way we could get her in the class," Lynn said.

Last year, a friend gave McBeth a paint set and she has been cranking out art since without any formal training.

Portraits of American Indian militant men line the walls of her cozy apartment. Some are in black and white, and others in full color.

The largest influence on her artwork is her heritage. McBeth's mother's family migrated from the Oklahoma Territories to the West in the 1960s. She is related to the Tecumseh, the Great Shawnee war chief, and Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce. Her grandmother's family is part of the Muskogee Creek Nation.

McBeth is trying to raise her son in the tradition of her culture by growing his hair out and decorating his room with an American Indian theme.

"We're just your average, everyday Indians," McBeth said.

Her days are simple.

She takes care of her son when he is awake, and paints when he sleeps -- sometimes through the night.

"I take care of everything he needs until I get a break," McBeth said. "As soon as he goes down to sleep, I paint until I can't paint any more, clean my house and go to bed."

Her painting workspace is in her living room, sitting on her kitchen table chair with the paint board propped up on another chair in front of her. McBeth often paints with cotton swabs rather than brushes because she likes the effect of the way she can rub the paint on the canvass, she explained.

McBeth spends 30 minutes to six hours on each piece and sometimes completes three in one day. She is excited to begin selling her art as a way to support her son.

"Doing the art is in my comfort zone," McBeth said. "We do well on what we have. It's very little, but (Neka) needs more."

McBeth donated a painting to the Native American Youth and Family Center's auction in November. Her piece was purchased for $230 by a young woman who works in a soup kitchen, Lynn said. McBeth said she has not yet sold any other pieces, which range in price from $50 to $600.

She is working on getting her name out and looking into being hired by a puzzle or greeting card company. She would like to make a living through art the rest of her life.

"It's what I love and what I'm good at," McBeth said.


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