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Take a long look at an Eric Tippeconnic painting. A deep, thoughtful look. There, rising from the canvas in vibrant color and powerful images, is a window into Tippeconnic’s Comanche soul – and his message to the world.
“The brighter the colors, the better,” he said. “Colors are passionate, and I rarely mute them in my work. I want my paintings to be powerful and bold. I want them to scream that Native people are still here – we’re still alive and we’re still a thriving culture.”
Tippeconnic’s works – he paints primarily in acrylic on can- vas – most often depict modern Native Americans participating in powwows or other cultural events. While he loves painting images of the Comanche – the great horsemen who dominated the Great Plains for nearly 200 years – he shies away from themes that depict the “noble savage” and other stereotypical themes of the genre.
“Most of my subject matter is contemporary,” he said. “I want my images to say that we are not a romantic, dying culture. We’re alive and constantly evolving as a people.
“Yes, we still have one foot grounded in our past, to who we are as a people. But that other foot is jumping off the ground and evolving – and that’s what I’m trying to convey in my art.”
A Renaissance Man
Colorado State University football fans will remember Tippeconnic (B.A., Humanities ’92) as one of the great linebackers in the program’s history. His interception return for a touchdown against 19th-ranked Wyoming sealed the Rams’ 17-8 win and propelled them into the 1990 Freedom Bowl – the school’s first bowl game in 42 years.
Tippeconnic finished that season with 185 tackles – still sec- ond-most in school history – and was voted to CSU’s All-Century Team in 1993. He cherishes his Ram football memories.
“Behind the birth of my children, CSU was probably the greatest experience I’ve ever had,” he said. “I get goosebumps every time I think about my first game my freshman year, playing at Tennessee (in 1987) in front of a huge crowd at Neyland Stadium. For four years I was so intimately attached to 100 other guys, all fighting for each other, day in and day out. It was an amazing experience.”
The other aspect of his CSU experience was less public but had a more lasting impact. After beginning his playing career as a true freshman, Tippeconnic needed another three semesters to complete his degree when his playing days were over. That’s when he established a deeper connection with his Native side.
“Throughout my time at CSU I got letters from the Native American Student Association inviting me to events, but I could never go because I was so busy with football,” he said. “After football ended I had a lot of time on my hands, and I went to a gathering of other Indian students – people from many different tribes. I still count so many people from that group among my best friends.”
Among them was Sonny St. Clair, now the chairman of the Eastern Shoshone tribe in Wyoming, who introduced him to a CSU- based drum group. Tippeconnic was hooked, and he still participates in the traditional drumming and singing whenever possible.
A New Chapter
Tippeconnic, who began drawing at an early age, didn’t start painting on canvas until 1995. The experience was uplifting, inspiring and – much to his surprise – somewhat lucrative. He has paintings in three museums, and private collectors pay as much as $5,000 for his creations.
“I don’t do it to make a living, or to gain fame or status,” he said. “I just have a flood of images going through my head, mostly from all of the ceremonies, dances and powwows I’ve attended. I can’t get them on canvas fast enough. I probably couldn’t get them painted in ten lifetimes, but I’m going to try.”