Although Shan Goshorn launched her career in the early 1980’s with hand-colored black and white photographs, she never considered herself a photographer…nor a painter, a silversmith, a glass worker or storyteller even though she was proficient within all these genres. Rather, she considered herself an artist who chose the medium that best expressed a statement, usually one that addressed human rights issues, especially those that affect Native people today.
As a teenager, she worked for a summer at her tribe’s Qualla Arts and Crafts Cooperative in Cherokee NC, where she became familiar with the work of top Cherokee artists and traditional arts. That experience led to a job with the Indian Arts and Crafts Board where she became involved with organizing exhibitions for Native artists and photo documenting the gathering of raw materials and preparing them for Cherokee basket making, carving and other crafts. After graduating from college, she was commissioned by the Department of the Interior/Indian Arts and Crafts Board to illustrate in pen and ink 20 traditional Cherokee basket patterns. These drawings taught her the math and rhythm of basket weaving but she did not try weaving as a medium until 2008.
She became politically active with her art in the early 1990’s in response to America’s quincentennial. Using a variety of multi-media techniques with photography, she created several bodies of work that addressed human rights issues unique to Native people, such as Honest Injun, a series of hand-painted black and white photographs of commercial products that use Indian names or images to sell wares;
Reclaiming Cultural Ownership; Challenging Indian Stereotypes, a body of 36 black and white documentary-style photographs that show Indian people as they really are, challenging the way Indian people are portrayed every day;
Kituwah Motherland, a double-exposed, hand-tinted black and white photograph, which helped to raise awareness about the corporate giant Duke Power and their plans to build a power plant overlooking the most sacred place to the Cherokee, the Kituwah Mound. This piece was used to raise money for grass roots efforts to legally investigate options for the Cherokee people who felt this spiritual mecca was in danger.
Vagina Monologues was created in support of the reading of the play by the same name to raise awareness of the incredibly high statistics of domestic violence and sexual abuse in Indian Country while High Stakes, Tribes’ Choice, two black and white photographs tinted with a high grade glitter, illustrate the tension between the glitz of casinos and traditional values.
While these art pieces and the accompanying lectures she presented about stereotypes and racism expressed her Native point of view, they weren’t as successful in educating and encouraging dialogue as she had hoped. In 2008 she had an idea to try something different - she decided that a traditional single-weave basket shape would be an interesting way to present the friction between state and tribal government. Her first basket was Pieced Treaties; Spider's Web Treaty Basket, which now resides at the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of the American Indian.
This paper basket was met with surprise and interest, encouraging her to pursue this technique by tackling the more difficult double-weave. A double-weave basket is difficult to weave as it starts on the interior bottom and is woven up the sides to the desired height. The splints are turned and woven back down the sides and finished on the bottom, with no obvious indication of beginning or end.
The usual way a Native person learns a traditional craft is by the repeated observation of someone creating these works from start to finish, usually a family member, thus passing tricks of the trade from one generation to another. Since she no longer lived in NC but in Oklahoma and had no weavers in her family, Shan taught herself by carefully examining a finished basket. Her first double-weave (Sealed Fate) took over a year to complete and was released in 2011; when she showed it to friends at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, they identified her as the 14th living Eastern Cherokee who had mastered this technique. Her next basket (Educational Genocide) was a lidded double-weave, created with a photo woven into it, which won Best of Show at Red Earth Indian Art Show in 2012.
Shan was awarded multiple fellowships: the 2015 United States Artists Fellowship, 2013 Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellowship, 2013 Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship, 2013 SWAIA Discovery Fellowship and 2014 Native Arts and Culture Artist Fellowship. These grants afforded her the opportunity to continue the research she started at the Smithsonian, studying historical baskets, documents, letters, treaties, etc. that she used as sources of inspiration to create more work.
For Shan, it was a thrilling accident to discover that the vessel shapes of baskets were a non-threatening vehicle to educate audiences. She would mention that she observed viewers literally leaning into her work, eager to learn more about the history of this country’s First People. Shan believed that America has told a one-sided history for too long. Acknowledging and addressing these past atrocities is movement towards true healing… this was her goal as an artist.