Dallin Maybee | Native Arts


By Wolf Schneider

When beadworker Dallin Maybee has to list his occupation these days, he puts “student,” since he’s a first-year law student at Arizona State University in Tempe—but that’s not the half of it. Maybee could just as appropriately claim “artist,” because art has become a bigger part of his life since winning Best of Show at the 2007 Santa Fe Indian Market for two children’s books that he wrote, illustrated, and covered in ledger-style beadwork. Since then, he’s been showing his beaded books, bags, moccasins, and dolls at Native art shows throughout the West, including the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market in March. Maybee could reasonably also call himself “dancer,” since he has been a member of the American Indian Dance Theater for the last seven years, and other dance troupes before that. He’s performed in China, Mongolia, the United Kingdom, Ecuador, and Chile and at the 2002 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremonies in Salt Lake City, UT.

At 33, the forward-thinking Maybee is simultaneously bringing together several careers—all of them combining his Northern Arapaho/Seneca heritage with the education his parents urged him to obtain in a changing world. Case in point: The beaded and embellished children’s books that Maybee brought to Santa Fe Indian Market last summer were an outgrowth of a philosophy of childhood class that he took at UCLA, where students were encouraged to write a children’s story and illustrate it. “I decided to do the illustrations in ledger-style art on antique ledger paper. I was really happy with how it turned out, so I thought maybe the next logical step would be to bead the heck out of it,” reasons Maybee. He created two books, beading and then embellishing them with brass tack and dyed horsehair. When he arrived in Santa Fe with the books, he confides, “I would have never imagined that I would have gotten an award like that.” Beadworkers often attend Indian Market, but usually with bags, moccasins, and jewelry—not books.

Since last summer, Maybee says, “That award has opened up new avenues. I have friends who are dedicated artists who are introducing me to different art shows and letting me set up in their booths to see what the potential is.”

Maybee has been beading since age 14, which is also when he began tribal dancing; initially he beaded his dance outfits. He explains, “My beadwork is the stuff I like to do. My dance regalia is a mixture of Samurai armor and medieval armor, but I bead it all. It’s unique and different looking. It’s very much a reflection of myself, as art should be.”


One of his award-winning books at Indian Market was about a father and son, with a ledger-style beaded cover including horses that symbolize self-esteem; the other was about a mother and daughter, with a buffalo lending a protective element. “I’ve always been a fan of ledger art, and I come from a horse culture. The Northern Arapaho were a Plains tribe,” says Maybee. “Ledger art goes back to a relatively short period of time during the Indian wars when the prisoners of war were creating art that was very much journals of their lives.”

Maybee’s life began on the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation in western New York State, which was his father’s reservation. His father is a longtime tribal administrator with the Seneca nation; his mother a social worker at the Indian Community Center in Salt Lake City. Both parents have bachelor’s degrees and urged Maybee to educate himself. Maybee’s uncle, Bob Spoonhunter, is a well-known beadworker, and so is Maybee’s brother, Ken Williams Jr.

Maybee spent his early childhood on the reservation, then went with his mom to Salt Lake City when she attended Brigham Young University there. When he was in seventh grade, mother and son returned to the rez, which is when Maybee began beading and dancing in order to fit in. “When we went back to the rez, I kind of had to start over. I didn’t know a lot of people,” he remembers.

In 1992, at 18, Maybee enrolled in Brigham Young University. “I didn’t do so hot there,” he admits. He dropped out, and during the next decade tried a stint at Utah Valley State College, became a tribal cop on the Goshute Reservation on the Utah/Nevada border, and traveled with Native dance troupes including the American Indian Dance Theatre, which he joined in 1999. Along the way he also got married, had a son, and divorced. It was in 2006 that Maybee went back to college at UCLA, earning his bachelor’s degree in philosophy. And in 2007 he enrolled as a law student at ASU with the intention of eventually practicing tribal law.

Beadwork kept Maybee in touch with his heritage during all this time, and winning the Best of Show award last summer has reignited the artist’s enthusiasm for pursuing both beadwork and the ledger-style paintings he does in watercolor, ink, and acrylic on antique ledger paper. “Art for me is incredibly spiritually driven,” Maybee explains. “It keeps me tied to my culture in a way that I wouldn’t be able to get otherwise. Because I spent a lot of my time away from the reservations, I don’t have that constant link that a lot of Indian people have. My life has been sort of transient. Art really centers me and takes me back to all that on a daily basis.”

Maybee anticipates that it will take him another two and a half years to obtain his law degree. And when he does, he says, “I hope to be able to serve Indian America through the legal field.” Meanwhile, he says, “I’m doing art shows when I can.” More power to him.

Featured in June 2008