Artist’s son donates drawings of famous leaders to Nez Perce Tribe

A group of pencil drawings of Nez Perce tribal leaders hangs in the hallway of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Chambers on Aug. 25 in Lapwai,
A group of pencil drawings of Nez Perce tribal leaders hangs in the hallway of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Chambers on Aug. 25 in Lapwai, Lewiston Tribune

Their eyes stare back as if they can see.

The small pencil strokes in the drawings and on each face seem to bring the men to life. The eight drawings depict leaders like Chief Joseph, Chief Black Eagle, Chief Kip Kip and Chief Peo Peo Tholekt and others. The drawings were created by Steve Allured in the 1950s and were donated to the Nez Perce Tribe by his son, Ron Allured.

The drawings will be on display at the Clearwater River Casino and Lodge until Sept. 30. After that they will be taken back to the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee’s building, where they will permanently hang.

The drawings came to the tribe more than a year ago, and the tribe decided to share them with the public.

Ann McCormack, economic development planner with the tribe, said she hopes the drawings inspire American Indian artists in the community.

“Doing hand work is important to the tribe,” she said, adding that many tribal members create art.

When the executive committee received the drawings, they got them matted and framed.

“We just wanted to introduce them to the public and share the wealth, so to speak,” she said.

Steve Allured died in 1979, shortly after he retired from Washington State University, where he worked as a commercial artist for 25 years. He worked on oil paintings, pencil drawings, water colors and scrimshaw, which is engraving or carving designs into bone or ivory.

When Ron Allured was growing up, he said his parents would take him on trips out West to visit the reservations of various tribes.

“He was always enamored with indigenous people and the way they lived,” Allured said about his dad.

But there was one tribe his parents were fascinated with.

“They had a particular interest in the Nez Perce,” he said.

Allured said his dad was inspired to create the portraits after his years of research on the tribe, but he was also inspired by the strong respect he had for the Nez Perce. They attended the tribe’s powwows and even tried to follow the Chief Joseph Trail.

“I just enjoyed their culture and learning about their culture,” he said of the Nez Perce Tribe.

Allured said he watched his dad work on some of the drawings.

“He would just sit there and draw. Of course, as a professional, he made it look easy.”

Allured describes his dad as a quiet guy who never let a detail slip past him. “He drew individual hairs. He doesn’t draw blocks and just shade it in.”

His dad’s attention to detail can be seen in the wrinkles drawn on the faces of the leaders that look real enough to touch.

When Allured was about 6 years old, he said, he tried to copy one of his dad’s drawings.

“I got sick one time and he had just finished a drawing of Chief Joseph’s son,” he said. “I sat down while I was home, sick and did my own rendition of that.”

He said the drawing didn’t look as good as his dad’s but it wasn’t bad for a 6-year-old.

Allured said he’s excited for the tribe to have the art that his dad worked hard on.

“Their relatives down the line can see their forefathers,” he said.

At some point the drawings were donated to a museum in Boise, Allured said. He tracked them down and saved the drawings from storage. After hanging the drawings in his home and office for decades, Allured said he’s excited for tribal members.

“I felt they belonged to the tribe. I know my dad would approve of my decision to donate them to the tribe.”