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The Cactus Men

Essay/Description

The Cactus Men by Ben Adair Shoemaker (Quapaw, Shawnee, Cherokee) references the peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii), one of many cacti indigenous to the southern Plains and southwestern regions of North America.1 The flowering cactus and other plant species have been utilized for their medicinal properties by various Indigenous American nations for thousands of years. The peyote cactus is known for yellowish green shoots shaped like flattened spheres, with rounded or hump-like bumps along the surface.

The Cactus Men draws from two distinct narratives: Indigenous men engaged in collective prayer, and precolonial Indigenous healthcare, which drew upon plant-based medicinal practices. In this anthropomorphic view of the peyote cactus, the prayer group resembles one of the plant’s shoots, with the back of each man becoming a raised bump. Shoemaker has used Flatstyle painting techniques, including color-blocked sections, minimal shading, and no background. His contemplative portrayal of collective prayer evokes multiple perspectives of the reciprocal relationships between Indigenous communities and plant medicine.

—Jordan Poorman Cocker, Henry Luce Foundation Curatorial Scholar for Indigenous Painting Collection Research, 2021

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1 Schultes, “The Appeal of Peyote (Lophophora Williamsii) as a Medicine.”

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Title(s): 
The Cactus Men
Creator(s): 
Ben Adair Shoemaker (Artist)
Culture: 
Native American; Cherokee, Quapaw, Shawnee
Date: 
1981
Materials/Techniques: 
acrylic on matboard
Classification: 
Object Type: 
Accession No: 
01.2498
Previous Number(s): 
TL1998.42; 0127.2498; TL 1998.42; 18804
Department: 
Not On View

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