photo:  Joe Wetmore 1987
Coffey at work in her studio,
Kemper homestead, 1987



photo:  Joe Wetmore 1988
Coffey at work in her studio 
Kemper homestead, 1988



photo:  Michael Wetmore 1988
Coffey Silhouette
Experience the Plains:
A Visual Assemblage

Orleans NE 1988



photo:  Michael Wetmore 1988
Coffey at the Kiewit
Omaha NE 1988



photo: Michael Wetmore 1991

Coffey reading poetry
Mounting of Jesse's Girl
Woman's Journal Advocate
Art Fair
Lincoln NE 1991



photo: Michael Wetmore 1991
Coffey performing 
a purification ceremony with 
 Arlan Lazaroff
Mounting of Jesse's Girl
Woman's Journal Advocate
Art Fair
Lincoln NE 1991



photo:  Joe Mette 1990s
Coffey at the 
Winnebago Studio



photo: Joe Mette 1990s
Coffey and Lee Mettenbrink
Winnebago Farm



photo: Joe Mette 1994
Coffey reading her poetry at
Dreams of Eagles Benefit
September 15, 1994
MacFoster's Cafe, Omaha NE

photo: Joe Mette 1994
Coffey with Arlen Lazaroff in her Rosalie Studio



photo: richard chilton 2004
Coffey at the Newberry Library Chicago 2004



Photograph 2005
Coffey at the Rosalie Studio



photo: richard chilton 2006
Coffey in Rosalie NE
 


Biography
 

 
                                                 photo: Joe Wetmore 1988
Margery Coffey

 

Artist Margery Coffey, culturally American Celtic, is a fourth generation Nebraskan who grew up on the banks of the Republican River near the Kansas border. Born during World War II, a month after Pearl Harbor, she spent her youth in small-town-rural Nebraska. Her father was the late Nebraska State Senator Tom Coffey.  At the age of 14 she moved to the capital of Nebraska, Lincoln where she completed High School and continued on to college.

Margery Coffey started creatively in theatre in the early 1960s, studying for two years at the University of Nebraska -- Lincoln and spending a summer in Estes Park Colorado with the Dark Horse Theatre where she served both as an actor and crew worker. She experimented with crafts for a brief period during her first marriage focusing on dolls both antique and modern by opening her own business, Talisman Doll Hospital, which lasted for ten years. 

Coffey earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts [BFA] degree with High Honor from Michigan State University [MSU] in 1975 and continued her formal studies at MSU for a year of graduate school in painting.  She is currently enrolled at Western Institute for Social Research, WISR, where she is finishing her Masters Degree and has been accepted into their PhD program.  Her studies include using art as social research while focusing upon the Umo nhon culture.

As an adult, Coffey has lived in Connecticut, Michigan, Minnesota, New York and Wyoming. She spent over a dozen years in New York City’s Greenwich Village, returning to the high prairie of her youth in the mid-1980’s to establish her own art studio, Black Prairie Dog Woman Studios. Coffey came to the mid-Missouri River Indian Reservations in the early 1990’s, and presently makes her home there among the sovereign people of the Umonhon Nation of Nebraska and Iowa.

Coffey became interested in social issues as an outgrowth of her pacifism. She volunteered on behalf of anti-war, veterans, environment, Native American and civil rights campaigns in Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska and New York City where her work led her to Asian, Native American and Afro-American cultures. 

Coffey’s artworks have been shown in over 50 art shows in ten different states, including both coasts and three different cultures. Her popular thematic shows include Nameless Ones of the Prairie, a show on the elderly pioneer descendants, and Listen to the Children, a multicultural look at the world of future adults. Currently she is using historic photographs as a subject matter for her paintings in conjunction with the Omaha Tribal Historical Research Project, Inc. under the mentorship of Umonhon, Dennis Hastings, MA.  She has won awards for her artwork twice from two different cultures: the Nebraska Association of American Mothers Inc. and the Wo-o-bi Fine Arts Club at Winnebago, Nebraska on the Winnebago of Nebraska Indian Reserve. Coffey has participated in 20 invitational or juried shows to date and has served as an art judge twice, again for two different cultures, Euro-American and the Umo nhon of Nebraska and Iowa Indian Reserve.

Working primarily with oils, Coffey’s repertoire includes a vast variety of mediums. Using oil with her "collage on cardboard" works, Coffey delves into experimental artistic expression reserving her oil and canvas works for more traditional themes. Organic sculpture pieces round out her portfolio along with graphic art done in India Ink, acrylic, watercolor, gouache, and colored pencils.

Coffey’s specialty has been her unique organic installation pieces. Comprised of both art pieces and found objects placed upon multi-levels, Coffey creates an artistic environment to set a mood for contemplation, making her work profoundly inner active as it combines both artworks and social commentary through the artifacts discarded by the dominant cultue.

Many return to Coffey’s exhibitions, bringing others with them, her shows eliciting strong emotions out of viewers, reducing any number to tears. Some are shocked by what they see, and like many other artists, Coffey’s work has been banned by those who fear a challenge to their own belief systems, but curiously, only in her home state of Nebraska -- some half dozen times in a dozen years.  Her current series of window displays against the war in Iraq have literally been attacked by local critics of her politics.  See Censorship.

Coffey’s 1990 work The Mounting of Jesse’s Girl, a performance art piece on rape, was rejected sight unseen by Alliance, a small Nebraska Panhandle town of 6,000, but debuted by special invitation at a citywide Art Fair held one year later in the state’s own capital City of Lincoln, population 200,000. 

Considered by some to be a "naïve" or "unschooled" artist of the Outsider School, Coffey’s work actually reflects many schools of art, beginning with the Northern European Expressionists, working through Social Expressionism, and including the great Mexican muralists, especially Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo. Coffey’s work has always been heavily influenced by Native American artists and the prairie itself as both inspiration and teacher.

Using unconventional materials as well as the traditional artist’s media, Coffey has created her own organic expressionism in color and texture, reflecting her life on the high plains and the multicultural experience of America. She is an artist’s artist.

Coffey’s writing and illustrations have appeared in newspapers, as well as national and international magazines. She produces poetry and prose in varying lengths. Coffey’s performance pieces come out of her theatrical schooling using poetry and drama to accent her art works.

Her silk screen designs have been popular in many states and a national trade show. She was co-owner and primary artist for the T-shirt Trap in New York City in the early 1980s.

In 2003 Coffey was successfully operated upon for Breast Cancer.  While she won't be officially in remission until 2008, she has had no reason so far to feel that it won't occur.  "Breast Cancer is epidemic now which ought to scare every one into doing something about the pollution in our earth, air and water," she states, "but unfortunately our government seems more interested in killing people than in saving them."

In 2004 Coffey became a Newberry Fellow at the Newberry Library in Chicago where she studied the collection of Omaha and the five cognate tribes collections as part of the requirements for a Masters Degree at Western Institute for Social Research which she received in May 2006.  She is currently working on her PhD.  Coffey returned to college to pursue graduate degrees to further her work among the Omaha.

"Art and language are two important communication tools," Coffey states, "in aboriginal cultures they are seen as sacred, a form of prayer. Each are important to the culture in which they developed. The roots of a people’s history lie deep within their language and their arts. By studying them both, the modern world can touch base with the wisdom of their elders directly."

It is the interest she has in both the written and the visual as well as her constant studies of the wisdom of many cultures, present and past, that makes Coffey’s work unique.

"Irish storytelling is an art form growing out of an ancient oral tradition. I find it highly compatible with Native American and African oral heritages. We are all one, no matter how we define our differences. We all involuntarily share the experience of birth and death." Coffey relates.

"My father’s Druidic ancestors were a form of medicine man — all artists within their own culture. My mother’s people came from a long line of needle workers and teachers. I am simply picking up a family trade and taking it to a new place."


for more information please contact:

Black Prairie Dog Woman Studios
P.O. Box 279
Rosalie NE 68055

or e-mail directly at:  prairiedog@jackalopearts.org

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