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
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,
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
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
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,
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
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
"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."