Yolanda Hart Stevens works at the prestigious Heard Museum in Phoenix. She’s performed a traditional dance at the Super Bowl and her art has been exhibited as far away as New Zealand.
But it’s an upcoming art exhibit in Yuma that the accomplished artist can’t wait to add to her impressive resume.
That’s because the exhibit “People of the Colorado” celebrates the culture of her tribal people, because the greater Yuma area is the place of her birth – the place where her art itself was also born.
“I’m really excited about this show,” Stevens told the Yuma Sun during a recent phone interview. “I am hoping to be able to attend the reception.”
Stevens now lives in Komatke, part of the Gila River Indian Community near Phoenix. She was born on the Ft. Yuma Indian Reservation just north of Yuma.
“I travel there as often as I can, just for different events. I make my rounds and visit people,” she said. “Our tribal community is very small. I’m probably related to most of the people there.”
“People of the Colorado” features several bead necklaces made by Stevens, along with several pieces of her pottery.
“The bead work, the dance, and the dress making have been my profession for the last 29 years,” Stevens said. “As I grew up, I have seen the elders living the same lifestyle and thought I wanted to be just like them. I had no idea all that was involved, but I have been willing to do it and stay with it, and it has been an education. My work has taken me to many places around the world, and I am honored.”
To Stevens, the beads mean a lot more than the artistic significance that they manifest. Those beads of clay, shell or bone also represent culture, history and family.
“Bead work has always been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It is a vital connection to my family, my grandmother, my daughters, my six granddaughters and my great-great granddaughters to come,” she said. “The bead work, my formal attire, is identification to who I am here in this world – and into the next world.”
Stevens honors Quechan elder and artist, Daisy Simms, as being her much-cherished mentor.
Stevens attended college in Arizona, an educational career that includes her being honored as a Smithsonian Institution American Community Scholar.
As an artist, Stevens has shared her creations with respected venues that include the Santa Fe Indian Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the Maori Museum in New Zealand. Major tribal casino-hotels have also commissioned her to create numerous installations ranging from textile and bead work to clay exhibits.
As an arts leader, Stevens serves as a member of the Lila Wallace Native American Advisory Board at the Heard Museum in Phoenix. She also serves as a member of the Kennedy Center for Arts Education board.
Although bead work represents the bulk of her artistic production, Stevens’ arts resume also includes creative achievements of other types. She danced, for example, with a Pee-Posh Bird Dance Group during the Super Bowl in 2008. Her film “Off The Rack” was featured on the popular PBS program “American Experience.”
Stevens’ art and her leadership have earned her honors from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, along with being named Art Educator of the Year by the Scottsdale Center for the Arts for 1998-1999.
She began working as an artist in residence at the Heard Museum in 1985. She serves in that same role with the Arizona Commission on the Arts, a position she has held since 1992.