Art on the Land: Roger Amerman reflects on his art inspired by land

Creating a traditional beaded belt bag inspired by the cultural peoples and land of the East Moraine Community Forest in Joseph, Oregon

By Roger Amerman
Bead Tapestry Artist and Commissioned Artist for Art on the Land

Roger on a hike at the East Moraine Community ForestThe East Moraine Community Forest is situated “ground zero” in the middle of one of the most inspirational landscapes in North America! My family and I have deep-seated ties to the Wallowa Valley and I am so happy to create a wonderful art piece that honors the dramatic landforms and regal peoples that are connected to the East Moraine.

In addition to me being a NE Oregon boy from Pendleton, my wife and son are descendants of the Walwama Band (Wallowa/Joseph Band) and Lamtama Band (Deer Eater/Salmon River Band) of Nez Perce. Throughout my life I have visited different parts of the Warm Springs Reservation for social events, religious ceremonies, sports tournaments, and camping with friends. The landscapes and people of Warm Springs Reservation have been inspirational in my life. I have plenty of good friends and rich memories that come from that area and “without reservation” I jumped at the chance to be part of an activity that supports the Warm Springs Tribe community and their right to access clean, nurturing, and life-giving water resources. Water is sacred and my art work will reflect my respect for Chuush/Koos/water, the Warm Springs community, and my best efforts as an artist. 

East Moraine Community Forest
East Moraine Community Forest, by Roger Amerman.

Water is sacred and my art work will reflect my respect for Chuush/Koos/water, the Warm Springs community, and my best efforts as an artist.

In my youth a Umatilla/Palouse elder from the Umatilla Reservation of Oregon, passed the skill of leather belt bag construction and ornamentation on to me. 

Inspired by the East Moraine Community Forest, this traditional beaded belt bag depicts the rich, elaborate, and complex geometric motifs and artistic elements that typically characterize the Nimiipuu Peoples revered horse regalia beadwork and painted rawhide that was commonly made between 1865 and 1920. The whole natural ecological make-up of the East Moraine is abstractly represented in this piece: subalpine/alpine habitat, Wallowa Lake Valley, moraines, mountains, “V” shaped valleys, vast tree lines, celestial icons in unpolluted night skies, symbols of human reverence, engagement, and legacy, and spiritual accent lines and colors.

This work is what you get when you combine 40 years as a Native American bead artist/Geologist/Engineering School graduate and a beautiful landscape.

One could say that the central design element in the belt bag project is what artifact collectors call a “classic keyhole” design often used on the traditional forehead beaded ornaments of Trans-Montane horse cultures, including the Nez Perce. It is important to note that these designs came from a warrior class, proud horse culture that wanted themselves and their magnificent animals seen in the highest regard at events of special importance.

Beaded Belt Bag by Roger Amerman

In an indirect way, the broad, vivid, and showy geometric and linear designs also remind me of the natural dramatic shapes observed from the East Moraine Forest Park. Glacial carved lakes and “V” shaped valleys, broad elongated terminal moraines, dramatic triangle shaped mountain tops, and long dark lines that separate the dark subalpine forest and the naked rock outcrop slopes of the alpine area. The two beaded linear and vertically oriented “rolled bar” lane designs remind me of nice ornate staffs that hold the sacred eagle feathers and define the community. The two rolled bars stand for the original communities that had an intimate relationship with the Wallowa landscapes through millennia, the Walwama and Imnaha bands of Nimiipuu.

The colors used in my composition are distinctly Nimiipuu beadwork colors commonly used and sought after between 1865 and 1920. This particular signature use of colors is unique to Tribal beadwork of North America. The dusty rose and powder blue seed bead colors were commonly used matrix colors. These colors were strategically accented with highly contrasting seed bead colors of red, dark blue, Arapahoe yellow, and greens. 

Native Americans, including the First Nation Peoples of the southern Columbia River Plateau, did not incorporate pockets in their attire, unlike colonial attire. Instead, they utilized a variety of different size bags and pouches to carry their items. The beaded belt or “butt” bags were, and continue to be, a very popular piece of wearable art in Plateau cultures. They are very unique and I thought it would be most appropriate to generate this item. 

I wanted to show my highest level of skill in beadwork and leatherwork for this particular commission project and that is why I made a nice belt bag. 

About Roger Amerman

Roger Amerman is a former Park Ranger with the US National Park Service and a highly accomplished artist whose work has been featured throughout the United States, including at the Santa Fe Indian Art Market, Heard Museum Indian Art Market (Phoenix, AZ), and the Smithsonian Institution, Museum of the American Indian, Washington DC. 

Roger is a trained geologist and cultural plant specialist, educated at the University of Oregon (BS Geology, 1981), the Colorado School of Mines (MS Geology, 1987), and Washington State University (MS Plant Ecology, 1996). He has lived and worked on the Umatilla, Yakama, and Nez Perce Reservations, where he has taught and lectured about beadwork, ethno-botany, and ethno-geology. Currently, Mr. Amerman is a Native American special events coordinator and programmer, lectures across the United States, and does commissioned artwork for museums and Native American establishments. He and his family reside on the Nez Perce Reservation of Idaho.

About Art on the Land

Raffle tickets are on sale December 2-12, 2021

Art on the Land is part of a collaborative project with Greenbelt Land TrustWallowa Land TrustWetlands Conservancy, and Wild Rivers Land Trust. Throughout October and November, artists visited a property in their area that is currently protected and preserved by a local land trust, drawing inspiration from the landscape to create a unique, commissioned piece of art. Learn more.

Buy your raffle tickets for a chance to win a one-of-a-kind work of art—like Roger’s bead bag—created by local Oregon artists and inspired by land currently protected by Oregon land trusts. Tickets are $20 each, and 100% of the proceeds go to the Chúush Fund to support the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs as they work to restore their access and infrastructure for clean water.

Raffle winners will be selected December 15 and notified by December 17.



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Kelsey Kuhnhausen

Kelsey Kuhnhausen

Kelsey is COLT's Communications Manager.

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