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Jimmy Osceola art exhibit opens at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum

Jimmy Osceola’s paintings are on display as guests at the Feb. 1 opening view the exhibit. (Beverly Bidney)

BIG CYPRESS — The late Seminole artist Jimmy Osceola depicted Seminole life, culture and history in paintings he created over 30 years. The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum is honoring his body of work in a show called “Seminole Pride: Celebrating the Artwork of Jimmy Osceola.” In a video made for the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society in 2019, Osceola said painting was a refuge for him and got him through some rough stages of his life.

“I wasn’t a student, but I watched what other artists did,” Osceola, a self-taught artist, said in the video. “It gives you something to get you through life. It’s important for us to show our culture and show the world we are still here.”

Those words inspired the 30-piece exhibit at the museum, which added walls in galleries not normally used for artwork to better showcase the paintings. The show takes up two-thirds of the museum. Many of the paintings were loaned to the museum by tribal members, who have them on display in their own homes and offices.

The opening reception at the museum Feb. 1 consisted of an overflow crowd of Osceola’s family, friends, community members and tribal leaders; many shared memories of the man and the artist. Museum director Gordon Wareham thanked Osceola’s family for trusting Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki with his legacy.

Osceola’s nephew Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola owns a large collection of his paintings. He said his uncle had a deep knowledge of the tribe’s culture and history and talked to him about the paintings.

“He was an amazing person,” Councilman Osceola said. “What a powerful legacy he left. Seeing our culture and history through his eyes gives me the chills.”

Subjects of Osceola’s paintings were typically people, rituals and camp life.

“I was blessed to get a taste of camp life,” said Charles Osceola, another nephew. “That’s where our Elders came from. They lived like that; I just got a glimpse of it. Jimmy knew the rules of his camp and found a way through the trials and tribulations of life there.”

Seminole artist Elgin Jumper often painted outdoors with Jimmy Osceola and brought a painting he made of the two artists at work in some grass surrounded by trees.

“This show is an important exhibition,” Jumper said. “It’s relevant today and will be in the future. A lot of time, imagination outdistances technique. Jimmy had both. This exhibit will be talked about for years. I hope they bring school busses in to see it.”

Visitors at the opening watched the video Osceola made in 2019 in the museum’s theater. When they exited the theater they were surrounded by paintings on every wall; some permanent and some temporary.

“This was too emotional for me,” said Janell Leitner, Osceola’s niece. “I thought I had a favorite painting, but now I don’t know.”

“This is awesome, beautiful and powerful,” Martha Tommie said. “He’s leaving his legacy so we don’t forget where we come from.”

Some Ahfachkee School art students perused the paintings at the opening. As emerging artists, they knew what to look for.

“He just poured all the colors in his mind onto the canvas,” said 12th grader Billie Cypress.

“This is amazing,” said 11th grader Jaylee Jimmie. “See how the colors blend together and really stand out; it brings it all together. The background really brings out the colors.”

Rosalinda Jimmie noticed the pops of color in Osceola’s paintings and how he blended them so masterfully, but her overall take on his work was how it illustrates Seminole history.

“He painted what he wanted us to remember. It’s very powerful,” said 12th grader Maggie Jimmie.

Big Cypress Board Rep. Nadine Bowers noted that Osceola created his art for everyone.

“He spoke to us in a way only Seminoles know,” Rep. Bowers said. “He is sorely missed in the community, but we will forever hear his voice through his artwork.”

Jimmy Osceola’s nephew Charles Osceola speaks at the opening reception. (Beverly Bidney)
The artwork of Jimmy Osceola is displayed throughout the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, including in the hallway between the permanent exhibits depicting historical Seminole camp life. (Beverly Bidney)
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