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Wes Jernigan


Long before he turned to art in a serious way, Wes was an ethnographer, archaeologist and art historian. He did his doctoral dissertation on the art history of the Palau Islands in the western Pacific, receiving his Ph.D. in anthropology in 1973. After a year teaching at the University of Kentucky, Wes was invited to Santa Fe to become a Resident Scholar at the School of American Research where he wrote a book on prehistoric Southwestern jewelry.

He then spent a year in the University of Arizona Art Department teaching European and Native American art history. Moving to the Department of Anthropology at the University of Arizona he continued to teach Native American cultures and art history as well as anthropology courses.

In 1989 he accepted a position at Eastern Arizona College as Director of the College Museum of Anthropology, where he also taught anthropology and conducted archaeological research on the local prehistoric cultures. A year or so previously his wife Gisela had begun to write children's books and Wes undertook to illustrate them. One of these books won the Arizona Author of the year award for Gisela and Wes in 1990.

In 1996 Wes began to feel the need to respond artistically to the Native American art forms and cultures that he had studied for a quarter century. After making several large wood sculptures Wes turned to a smaller scale medium. He found books on silk-screen printing and laboriously taught himself the process. Once he had made all the possible mistakes, Wes found the serigraph medium most congenial. He conceived a series of prints reflecting the nature spirits of the Southeast and Southwest Indian tribes, with whom he feels a special connection, being descended from a Chickasaw chief named Squirrel King. In his "Moundspirits" series Wes combines ancient decorative ideas from Southeastern tribes with art deco notions that were part of his boyhood milieu in the early 1940's. The result is a contemporary recollection of the ancient peoples who built thousands of great earth mounds all across the eastern half of the United States. In the “Canyon Spirits” series Wes  responds to the magnificent natural and cultural qualities of the Southwest