Art of the American West

Nancy McLaughlin

American/Montana (1932-1985)


Born and raised in western Montana, Nancy McLaughlin had extensive contacts with the Indians of Montana. She spent her childhood on the reservation where she was friends with the Blackfeet. While learning of their customs and legends, she also developed an in-depth understanding of the people. As a young lady she was adopted into the Blackfeet tribe and given the name of ME SA’ MAXAKI which means Swan Woman.

It is natural that as an artist her subject matter was primarily Indians, with her favorite themes, Indian women and tribal lore. She presented these women as pillars of strength radiating gentleness, beauty and dignity. The legends she illustrated were dynamic and penetrating. They came from a clear understanding of her subjects–an understanding that had been gathered painstakingly over time and recreated with intuitive power from an intimate part of her own experiences. Her expansive interest in art is seen in the variety of media in which she worked. McLaughlin considered herself a sculptor, but she was also an accomplished painter and printmaker. Her sculpture was impressionistic, probably because of extensive studies of Rodin’s work. Nancy’s bronzes are graced with flow, movement and a general dynamic quality. There are few western artists her rival, for she is not an illustrator in bronze, but an artist–a most important distinction. She was one of the top sculptors in the western art field.

Over the years her paintings were influenced by several artists, but the Russian School of Impressionism probably exerted the greatest force. Within an inherent balance of form and line she created colors which were vibrant and cover a rather complete range.

During her thirty plus years as a professional artist, Miss McLaughlin had exhibited in many individual and group shows and won an array of awards. Her illustrations have appeared in several publications and she has been the subject of numerous articles as well as books. At one time she was married to the western artist Asa (Ace) Lynn Powell (1912-1978). Together they produced and sold art in many western states.

This rare and sensitive artist died of a heart attack on March 20, 1985. With her passing the world lost an artist of historical importance. She will be significant as a portrayer of Western Indians, especially those of the Plains, the Southwest and the Northwest. It was, however, the Blackfeet that she knew and loved the best and they were the ones most frequently represented in her art. Her art bears the hallmark of permanence and is to be preserved for future generations to admire, cherish and love.