What a life Michael Horse is having! He began making jewelry as a teenager, became a musician, was a stunt man, accidentally became an actor, and began making ledger paintings on film sets. His family is Yaqui from Sonora, Mexico, and his grandmother used to take him to visit relatives in Zuni Pueblo and the Mescalero Apache Reservation when he was a little boy. He was adopted by his father who was a hunting guide whose family came from Austria. If you ever have an opportunity to meet him he will tell you stories that seem outlandish, but they are all true.
Michael taught himself how to make jewelry and became an award-winning
jewelerwhose work is collected by people around the world. He may be most well known for his intricate katsina pieces which are all fabricated by hand. Each katsina begins as a flat sheet of silver or gold. Then he carefully pounds and bends the metal into a face, hands, moccasins, feather fans, etc. Afterward, all of the pieces are put together to make the finished katsina.
He is also a master of tufa casting. Tufa is a volcanic stone which can be as dense as chalk which has an organic texture. The first thing a jeweler does is examine a piece of tufa for any tiny fractures. If it looks good, the tufa is cut in half and, if there is a design, it is carved into the tufa. There is a pour hole carved into the top and several narrow vents carved into each side. The two pieces are then bound together tightly and molten silver or gold is poured through the hole at the top. If there are any microscopic cracks, the tufa explodes when the metal is poured in and the process has to begin again.
Michael searches out the best stones and coral available. Only the best stones go into his jewelry. His pieces are also made to last many, many lifetimes. Each ring, bracelet, bolo tie, pendant and necklace are created with silver or gold that is substantial.
While on film sets as an actor, Michael began creating ledger paintings. Ledger painting is a traditional Native American folk art that came out of the reservation era in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Prior to that time, events such as battles and calendars were depicted on hides using traditional paints. When people were removed from their traditional territories and put on reservations they were not allowed weapons of any kind, so no hides. When people no longer had access to the hides they would find any type of paper and implement to write or draw with to record what was happening prior to being on the reservation, or what life was like being on the reservation.
Michael first saw ledger paintings at the Gilcrease Museum in Oklahoma. He realized this was Native American history by Native American people and was inspired to create. At the time there were fewer than a handful of ledger painters who maintained the art. Now, there are many ledger painters, including women, who continue to keep this tradition alive. Michael says the hardest part about his ledger paintings is finding antique documents from the era when ledger paintings were first made. And, he especially enjoys painting on land grants which gave away Indigenous territories.
Many people recognize him from his many roles in television and film. He is most well known for his role as Deputy Hawk in the ground-breaking television series, Twin Peaks, which ran in 1990 and 1991 and is now available on Netflix. Twin Peaks also came back in 2017 for a new season on Showtime. Michael's other films include The Call of the Wild, Passenger 57, Lakota Woman, House of Cards, Skinwalker Ranch, and Dead Ant (photo below).