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‘Elgin Jumper’s Colorful Journey’ debuts at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum

A documentary about artist Elgin Jumper debuted Oct. 6 at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. Seminole Media Productions filmed and produced the documentary. (SMP)

BIG CYPRESS — When Elgin Jumper was 6 or 7 years old, he picked up a pencil, started drawing and kept at it until it became a part of him.

Today, he is a renowned Seminole artist with a new documentary, which premiered Oct. 6 at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.

“It was quite an experience,” Jumper said after the screening. “I wanted to have something out there. I hope this is the
beginning of other Seminole artists getting their work out to a broader audience, to get inspiration and follow their dreams. I’ve done so many things I never dreamed of.”

The 20-minute documentary was filmed and produced by Seminole Media Productions. Jumper worked closely with
videographer and editor Matt Fernandez. The team will film more footage in early 2022 and present the final version in the spring.

“He saw my vision and listened to my ideas,” Jumper said. “We will be adding about 10 more minutes to it. We got a great response, that was encouraging to go further with it.”

“Elgin Jumper’s Colorful Journey” documents his voyage of healing through art.

In 2004, Jumper left a lot of drama and turmoil related to alcohol behind him. He knew he had to make a change in his life and reinvent himself. He already knew how to draw and believed he could take his talent further by painting.

“It was a blank canvas,” said Jumper, 57. “It’s turned into colorful, meaningful, purposeful painting. It’s so rewarding what you get out of it.

Tribal members are an important part of the documentary and add their voices to the film.

“Elgin’s art represents the Seminole’s ability to work within the modern world and also have relevance with our past
and in our own truths and knowledge,” said Durante Blais-Billie, Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki assistant director. “Seminole art is really
important. It’s claiming that voice for us in contemporary society. It’s more than just an expression of our culture, it’s a negotiation of our identity.”

Jumper works in a variety of mediums including acrylic, chalk, oils and watercolors.

“He has taken masterpieces and included Seminole subjects in that,” said James Patrick, Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki head of
exhibitions. “He has paintings that remind you of masterpieces by Picasso and Matisse. It’s very interesting how he incorporates Seminole subjects into that. His paintings are very thought provoking.”

Jumper’s style is eclectic and ranges from almost realistic landscapes to stylized portraits. An unfinished painting in the
documentary is a portrait of Billy Bowlegs with the background that pays homage to Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”

“I think it is stunning,” Blais-Billie said. “Elgin really brings so much life to it, it really resonates with Seminoles today.”

“Elgin has a unique Seminole style,” Patrick said.

Jumper grew up on the Hollywood Reservation with Councilman Chris Osceola, who had no idea his friend was so talented.

“I saw what he was doing on canvas and thought he had a really special gift there,” Councilman Osceola said. “When I see Elgin’s work, you see how things change and evolve. You see more modern in Elgin’s work, you see a whole different style than what I was accustomed to seeing over the years from a lot of the Native artists on the reservations.”

As an artist, Jumper also delves into music, performance, poetry and writing. In a performance at the Old Fort Lauderdale Village, Jumper played guitar with a bow meant for a violin, viola or cello. He read a poem about life during the Seminole Wars as Gordon “Ollie” Wareham played flute.

“Elgin will get an idea and give me a call, so we sit down and work on it,” Wareham said. “Through rehearsals, ideas start to develop. The creative process with Elgin is mind-blowing; you think you are going in one direction and he’ll come back and say let’s do this and let’s experiment with this. He’s always pushing the boundaries.”

In the documentary, Jumper talks about how he approaches a painting as he sketches and then paints one. He usually sketches on canvas with charcoal or pencil and when he sees the image he wants, he goes over it with paint.

“Every painting is different, every painting is its own journey,” Jumper explained. “It evolves like that, it’s always changing, it’s always evolving.”

Wareham said the documentary is an example of how the tribe is much more than the Hard Rock brand.

“We fight every single day for our uniqueness, our culture, what makes us us, whether it’s our language or art,” Wareham said. “Being part of this world and having this reputation in Florida, I have a saying: ‘We aren’t part of Florida, we are Florida.’ We are here because this is where our creator has put us. This is our story and we are so proud to tell our stories.”

Whether they’re on canvas or with his words or music, Jumper’s stories provide artful proof that his life is in a much better place.

“If I can do this with all my heart and just stay busy and focused on it, it would keep me away from all the negativity I lived with before,” Jumper said.

Gordon “Ollie” Wareham, on flute, accompanies Elgin Jumper as he reads a poem during a performance at the Old Fort Lauderdale Village. (SMP)
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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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