Bill Rabbit - a name half common and half exotic, half American Indian
and half American every-man. It is appropriate for a Native American
artist whose striking paintings transcend cultural barriers. There seems
to be a universal appeal to his towering archetypal figures with rivers
of dark hair and flowing robes, facing the sun in a stylized landscape
of stone monoliths or adobe villages.
Rabbit, whose animal surname came from his Cherokee ancestors, took
more than a few years to develop his identity as an artist. But once
he did, he became one of the most talked about Indian artists in America
. He was named 1989 Artist of the year by the Indian
Arts and Crafts Association (I.A.C.A). In 1987, he was honored with a
one-man retrospective show at the Cherokee National Museum. He has been
named Master of the Five Civilized Tribes, a title shared by such well-known
artists as Willard Stone, Troy Anderson and Virginia
Rabbit's work has been shown in numerous invitational exhibits including
the John F. Kennedy Center and the Native American Center for the Living
Arts in New York. His Easter Egg, created for an exhibit at the White
House, is part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institute,
along with those by Andy Warhol and Andrew Wyeth. In 1987 he was named
one of five artists listed as best investments for the year by the Indian
" I guess I'm successful because I'm doing what I like. I believe
that our likes and dislikes are influenced by everything we experience
over the years. Fortunately, people seem to enjoy my work", says
Rabbit. "Perhaps they are responding to the same kinds of experiences."April 9th,2012
Cherokee National Treasure William “Bill” Eugene Rabbit of Pryor passed away April 9 in Tulsa at age 65. Rabbit was born in Wyoming on Dec. 3, 1946, and grew up in Pryor. He won numerous awards during the 30-plus years he worked as an artist. For nearly 20 years he worked in partnership with his daughter Traci, who is also an accomplished artist. They shared a studio in Pryor. In 2011, the Cherokee Nation named him a National Treasure for his artistry and for preserving Cherokee culture through his artwork.
Rabbit completed his first drawing as a kindergartener and kept the certificate of completion his teacher gave him, which stated: “He doesn’t necessarily get along with the other students, but he might have some artistic ability.” He was self-taught in jewelry making and acrylic painting and said all artists influenced him. For his paintings, he did little preliminary sketching, allowing the color to shape his forms in his paintings.
Rabbit voluntarily joined the Army in 1966, during the Vietnam War. He served 18 months in the 25th Infantry Division in Vietnam with filmmaker Oliver Stone, who earned an Academy Award for the his 1986 film “Platoon,” which was about the tour of duty they shared. He was honorably discharged from the Army in 1969 at the rank of sergeant.
He said Vietnam taught him that the freedom enjoyed by Americans is not free, American people don’t fully appreciate the freedoms they have and that life’s moments are precious.
“Life has been good to me. I’m thankful I’ve had the opportunity to see the things I’ve seen and do the things I’ve done. But if I died tomorrow, I would feel so blessed, and I hope God puts me in charge of painting rainbows,” he said.