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Artists And COVID-19: Shawn Espinosa

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Many artists are losing money during the pandemic because shows and events are canceled. But that doesn’t mean they’ve stopped creating. Some work from their studios and sell to individuals across the country.

Native American tribes across the country used to warp rawhide into containers then decorate the outside with color pigments from nature. The traditional work is called parfleche art. Shawn Espinosa has been working with the medium for years.

“Including parfleche boxes, pouches. Earrings are one of my really good sellers.”

In the warmer season, Espinosa sometimes prepares and processes the animal hides himself. The rest of the time, he’ll purchase processed hides. Then he cuts out the shapes he needs and binds them together. He finishes boxes and pouches with colorful painted geometric shapes.

“I try to maintain the old methods but I throw in modern techniques as well because I do believe if the Lakotas had acrylic paint back then that they would have utilized it.”

He says parfleche bags and boxes were used to transfer food, clothing and ceremonial items-and they’re built to last.

“The ones they show in the museum now, they look all battered and beaten and old, it's because they were out in the weather and in battles. They got trampled on by soldiers' horses.”

Espinosa has sold pieces to people all over the world. Businesses purchase his work to sell to tourists in the summer months. Right now, many of those buyers are closed and his income depends on the sales he can make to individuals.

“I wish sales were better right now but yeah they’re really bleak right now. But it’s enough to get by and that’s pretty much the story of my career, is providing for my family even in the most dire situations. There’s some day I’ll go without selling anything. Then all of the sudden, boom. They want to buy a couple boxes and there’s my light bill right there.”

Many other artists are in the same position right now hoping to make just enough to get by.