BISBEE — It is with great sadness to tell of Jesse’s passing on June 17, 2021. He is survived by his wife Sandy, brother Eddie (Faye), sister Nancy, and many nieces and nephews to whom he was a great uncle, as well as his beloved pups, Sister and Stanley.
Jesse, 3/4 Cherokee and a tribal member of the Cherokee Nation, was born in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. On February 12, 1952 to Jess and Margaret Hummingbird, the baby of seven children.
He attended junior and senior high schools in Nashville, Tennessee, and went on to study art at Watkins Institute, the University of Tennessee, and classes at The American Academy of Art in Chicago. He lived in Bisbee, Arizona and took printmaking classes at Cochise Community College.
He established himself as a successful printer, graphic artist, and commercial illustrator before becoming a fulltime artist in 1983. Jesse pursued both Cherokee and other Native American themes in his acrylic paintings. While painting contemporary images, Jesse painted in the traditional style of the Oklahoma Native painters. This “flat” style has no shadows, shading or blending of colors; each flat-colored area has an inlining of a different color and then a dark outline.
Jesse exhibited at shows primarily in the southwest, showing his original paintings and mixed media masks, a limited edition of giclee reproductions and notecards. He and his wife Sandy authored and illustrated five children’s activity books. Jesse also illustrated books “Native American Night Before Christmas” and “Native American Twelve Days of Christmas” originally published by Clear Light Books and two DVDs of these titles distributed by Native American Public Telecommunications. One of his pieces was featured in a children’s book titled “Where We Live” published by the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, District of Columbia. He was currently illustrating a children’s book for the Book Publishers of Nashville, Tennessee, called “Don’t Step on Me” with 14 paintings of insects in their habitat, done in Jesse-style!
Jesse won awards for his paintings at the Five Civilized Tribes Museum (Muskogee, Oklahoma), Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial (Gallup, New Mexico), The Heard Museum (Phoenix, Arizona), St. George Art Festival, Tesoro Foundation Art Market, Pueblo Grande Museum (Phoenix, Arizona), and Santa Fe Indian Art Market. He was proud to have won first place in painting at Tesoro on June 6 this year.
Jesse had a one-man show of 22 pieces hanging in the main gallery of the Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott, Arizona in 2009. He also has artwork in collections in the United States and abroad, including the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, District of Columbia, and the Mansfield Collection and the James Bialac Collection at the University of Oklahoma.
In 1996 he was named Artist of the Year by the Indian Arts and Crafts Association and received a fellowship from the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (Santa Fe, New Mexico) that same year. In 2015 he was named a Tribal Elder of the Cherokee Nation. In 2017 he was selected as a Cherokee National Living Treasure, an honor he cherished.
At his request there will be no services, memorials or celebrations. He would want all to remember him in their own way and his “wicked sense of humor” as one of his mentors described.