Tribute to 2005 Community Spirit Award Honoree Frank Sheridan, Sr.

Cheyenne artist remembered for generosity he extended to both Native and non-Native people

When the friends and family who knew Frank Sheridan, Sr. (Cheyenne/Arapaho) best reflect on his life, the word “generous” comes up time and time again. But they will say that it wasn’t just that he was generous with the artwork that he created.

It was the generosity that he extended to all peoples—sharing his time and talents and life experience with everyone he met.

“If you wanted to know how to do something, Frank would show you how to do it,” said Teri Greeves (Kiowa Indian Tribe of Oklahoma), who nominated Sheridan for a Community Spirit Award nearly one decade ago.

Greeves entered her first art show thanks to Sheridan. Today she is a world-renowned artist whose work can be found at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and in galleries and museums around the world.

His teaching went beyond the “how-tos” of art, Greeves said.

“After teaching students how to create something, he would give them the patterns for it. In that way, no matter what, they would always have skills—and a base—from which to make money. They would always have a way to make a living,” she said. “He gave them not just pride in the ability to create something, but the ability to take care of one’s self. It is a very traditional idea that he was great at sharing.”

Sheridan—who passed away this month—was an artist for four decades, starting as a young child when he brought a series of mismatched beads to his mother Ruby Sheridan Bushyhead, and asked her to teach him how to bead. Those early lessons began a journey in which he bridged both the Native and non-Native worlds by sharing his art through education. It was a calling that made a difference in the lives of hundreds of young people, and thousands more who have seen his art.

He worked with a variety of different mediums, from rawhide to buckskin and nearly every other traditional material, and became widely known for his Cheyenne style ledger drawings and contemporary variation of ledger style drawing.

Sheridan was also a distinguished scholar. He earned an associate’s, bachelor’s, and two master’s degrees, and lectured for the Association of American Indian Physicians on “Spiritually Based Alternative Therapies.” He worked in the federal service for almost three decades, as well as with Indian Health Services as a community intervention specialist, using his artistic gifts in his professional work to help people heal.

In 2005, he received First Peoples Fund’s Jennifer Easton Community Spirit Award for the commitment and passion he brought to passing cultural traditions on to tribal communities.

Jhon Goes in Center (Oglala Lakota), a former First Peoples Fund board member, said his friendship with Sheridan began when Sheridan came to Rapid City to accept the Community Spirit Award.

“Frank was the epitome of what a good relative and servant leader is. I first met Frank at the Community Spirit Awards, and since then have shared a close enough relationship to call each other brother,” Goes in Center said. “I learned much about Frank for the respect his relatives, community and friends accorded him in the setting of community and Cheyenne life-ways.”

“Frank embodied the Collective Spirit in every way,” added Lori Pourier, president of First Peoples Fund. “Our hearts were saddened at the news of his passing, yet our hearts are also full with gratitude for all he shared—with me, our staff, his fellow Community Spirit honorees, and the tribal communities in which he did his deep, important, life-changing cultural work. Through our mission, we will continue to honor him and all the First Peoples artists who we have been honored to meet.