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Museum exhibit evokes fond memories of talented Jimmie Scott Osceola

Edna McDuffie and Willie Johns reminisce about Jimmie Scott Osceola and his artwork during the opening reception of the exhibit at Ah-Tah-Thi_Ki Museum May 20.
Edna McDuffie and Willie Johns reminisce about Jimmie Scott Osceola and his artwork during the opening reception of the exhibit at Ah-Tah-Thi_Ki Museum May 20.

BIG CYPRESS — By all accounts, the late Jimmie Scott Osceola was a talented artist, gifted storyteller and renowned horse whisperer. An exhibit of his artwork opened May 16 at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum and will be on display through Oct. 16. At the opening reception May 20, family and friends gathered to remember the man and his work.

“Today I’m glad we made time to appreciate his work,” said Osceola’s brother Joe Dan Osceola. “He was self-taught and had God-given talent.”

As a child, Jimmie Scott Osceola drew pictures of what he saw around him, which included his family’s camp in Brighton, horses and loved ones. He once sent a drawing to an advertisement in the back of a comic book that sought people who could draw well.

“One day a white man came into our camp and asked who drew this picture,” recalled his sister Lawanna Osceola-Niles. “But my mother wouldn’t let him see the man. He was a natural talent and we just took it for granted. We didn’t realize how valuable all this art would be.”

Osceola-Niles was left in her brother’s care when their mother Annie Tiger Osceola went to work in the fields. She remembers going quail hunting with him to get food for dinner and the flapjack breakfasts he prepared for her every morning.

“He was a special guy,” Osceola-Niles said. “He was a quiet man of few words, but he could tell tall stories. He is still special in my heart.”

Born in 1939, Osceola grew up in Brighton and graduated from Okeechobee High School in 1959 with Edna McDuffie, Geneva Shore and Fred Smith. He was always known as a talented artist and created detailed pen and ink drawings of chickee camps, horses and the cowboy culture.

“Everybody just loved Jimmie,” McDuffie said. “He used to draw back then, but he got much better later on.”
Osceola was generous with his art and gave a lot away. As they looked at the exhibit of seven pieces, McDuffie and

Willie Johns discussed the drawings they each have and others pieces they know are in the hands of other Tribal citizens.

Osceola was also a compelling storyteller. In 2006, the city of Okeechobee honored him with Jimmie Scott Osceola Day to bring Seminole history to the community.

To commemorate his life, Connie McAdams, owner of the Dust Collector antique store in town where Osceola spent a lot of time telling stories, wrote a book “Ah-Ho-Ne-Ce” which was Osceola’s Indian name and means to awaken.

McAdams also called the book “The Seminole Horse Whisperer.” Published by the Tribe, only 20 copies were printed. Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki has one copy; the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. has another.

“Jimmie Scott was looking for someone to tell his stories to and we became fast friends,” McAdams said. “People came in every day to listen to him, they wanted to know Seminole stories and he was always willing to share them.”

During the reception, Tribal citizens shared their memories of Osceola. Hollywood Board Rep. Steve Osceola, who only knew him for his reputation breaking horses, didn’t know he was an artist and was amazed with the work.

“It’s nice to see his artwork again,” said his niece Lavonne Rose. “He was a renaissance man. Who knew the horse person could be such an artist? It’s nice to know his memory is living on in art and horses. He was truly a special man and I’m proud to be part of the family.”

Stephen Bowers regaled the crowd with a story about working with Osceola delivering bales of hay in Davie and Miami. After work they often went out for drinks at a local bar.

“He used to draw horses on napkins,” he said. “He had the talent but not the training. He was a good friend, a chick magnet and I miss that smile.”

Willie Johns remembered one of Osceola’s consistent traits.

“Whatever Jimmie Scott did, he was very meticulous,” Johns said. “He always told us we needed to improve our work and do a better job.”

The seven drawings on display were given to the museum about two years ago by a couple in Fort Lauderdale, who found them at an estate sale.

“We recognized immediately how important they are,” said Paul Backhouse, director of the Tribal Historic Preservation Office and Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. “These could have been lost to the world and suddenly they were back.”

Osceola passed away at age 68 in 2008.

“There is a lot more of his stuff out there,” Johns s

Jimmie Scott Osceola drew this portrait of Grandma Willie in 1986, which is on display at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum until Oct. 16.
Jimmie Scott Osceola drew this portrait of Grandma Willie in 1986, which is on display at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum until Oct. 16.

aid. “Maybe one day it will all come together.”

Joe Dan Osceola presents Rebecca Fell, curator of exhibits at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki, with a doll during the opening reception of the exhibit of Jimmie Scott Osceola’s drawings and prints May 20.
Joe Dan Osceola presents Rebecca Fell, curator of exhibits at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki, with a doll during the opening reception of the exhibit of Jimmie Scott Osceola’s drawings and prints May 20.
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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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