top of page

R.C. Gorman

"The Picasso of American Indian Art"

Who is R.C. Gorman ?

'Self-Portrait', 1973, lithograph by RC Gorman

"Self-Portrait", 1973, Lithograph

Childhood in Chinle (and surrounding areas)

R.C. was born Rudolf Carl Gorman on July 26, 1931. He was born to Carl Nelson Gorman and Adele Brown in Chinle, Arizona (Chin-lee) - a small town near the mouth of Canyon de Chelly (Kan-yone dī shay). He went by "Rudy" back then, and some of his early works from those years is signed "Rudy Gorman". By the time I knew him, he was "R.C." but my grandfather still often called him Rudy.


Canyon de Chelly was once home to the Anasazi, and ancient pueblo people who flourished as far back at the 12th century b.c.e.. The created complex dwellings, baskets, weavings, and rock art. The people are gone now, but evidence of their presence there still remains. Many of his works reflect the scenes of Chinle and Canyon de Chelly. From the tall rain stained walls of the canyon, to the flowers and fauna of the lush valley, you see the beauty of Dineh Tah (more modernly spelled "Diné Tah" or Navajo Land).


His grandmother on his mother's side used to come visit them by donkey. She would bring prickly pear, wild bananas and fresh mutton. She would sit with Rudy and show him the stars. She only spoke Navajo and would point out each star and tell him the name for each of them. She would teach him about the plants and herbs growing all around.

In 1964 the Tsaile (tS-Ay-lee) dam was built, cutting off much of the run off from the Chuska (Choo'sskah) Mountains flowing through the Canyon and reaching Chinle, but during R.C.'s childhood Chinle was lush and green. A small population of several hundred Navajo was supported by farming. Ruby Throated Hummingbirds would zoom about, feeding on the small wild flowers.

Rudy had a creative spirit from an early age. He would play in the muddy waters near the opening to Canyon de Chelly. He would form figures from the clay and mud and draw with charcoal on the sandstone walls of the canyon.

"One place there, he drew a naked woman. And his aunt scold him: 'you shouldn't do that. That's not right'.

And the teacher spank him, because he was drawing women like that, in school. And the teacher told the mother too, and

he got a spanking from her. ...For drawing women! He still draws the women, but no body spanks him now."

- R.C.'s Father, Carl Gorman, in a 1987 interview for Navajo Artist: R.C. Gorman

"Chinle Ruby Throated Hummingbird" by R.C. Gorman is a multicolored lithograph. It depicts a Navajo woman dressed in velvet, turquose and a Navajo Blanket standing next to a tulip with her hand outstretched to a hummingbird.

"Chinle Ruby Throated Hummingbird", 1992, Lithograph


"Chuska Storm", 1997, Lithograph

Part of the Anniversary Suite

For a while, he attended Saint Michael's Catholic School near Window Rock, Arizona. I also attended school there from 1995 - 1998, though my experiences were much better than those of my uncle's.


He recalls this time briefly in his book The Radiance Of My People:


"that was the only time in my life I remember being

constantly hungry...when the nuns were looking the other way,

I'd mash up some prunes with a fork, spread the mixture

between two pieces of bread, and stick it in my shirt

to eat later during chapel."


In the fall of 1944 his father, Carl, was still fighting in the Pacific with the Second Marine Division as a Navajo Code Talker. One of Rudy's aunts helped him to enroll into the Ganado Presbyterian Mission School.


Unlike the policies at Saint Michael's, the teachers at the Presbyterian school encouraged the children to speak Navajo. Rudy's Navajo had become rusty over the years at Catholic school, but the masses at his new school were bi-lingual. In fact, many of the hymns they sang had originally been translated into Navajo by his paternal grandmother, Alice P. Gorman. To this day, many churches across the reservation use those translations.

Rudy delighted in his new school. He worked his summers in a multitude of jobs to pay his tuition. He was encouraged by his teachers to explore his creative side. Several even purchased his early work, and he never forgot their early support.

'Rudy' becomes 'R.C.'


Rudy graduated Ganado Mission High School in 1950. He had early thoughts of becoming a pilot or a merchant sailor. I think he wanted to travel.


He joined the U.S. Navy in 1951 at the age of 19. As you may know, in the military, you go by your last name. If there is an occasion to identify you further, you might get your initials back. Gone was "Rudy" and so was born "Gorman, R.C.".

R.C.'s time in the Navy had him stationed at the San Diego Naval Air Station then stationed in Guam as an airman and finally aboard the U.S.S. Oriskany (CV-34) for readiness training along the California coast. It was R.C.'s first time traveling to another country. He became enamored with the people, food and this new experience.

During this time, R.C. couldn't help but continue exploring his creative side. The pin-ups of Alberto Vargas and George Petty were extremely popular. R.C. capitalized on this and would draw up your girl back home as a pin-up. He charged the officers $7 and the enlisted $2. I haven't had one of these cross my path yet, but if you ever find one, let me know.

R.C.'s Father, Carl, recalls R.C. drawing from an early age.

R.C. was my uncle. By the time I had come around, he had been dubbed: "the Picasso of American Indian Art" by the New York Times, he had two successful galleries, one in Taos and the other in Old Town Albuquerque, his work adorned the walls of dozens - if not hundreds - of galleries from San Fransisco, Philadelphia, and New York to Paris, Berlin, and London as well as countless homes around the world.  I knew him as "Uncle R.C.". He was 52 when I was born and 74 when he passed. I knew him for 21 years.

I have many fond memories of my uncle and the times I would come visit him with my family. He had already put on a bit of a belly by the time I knew him, his knee gave him some trouble sometimes, but he was always quick to rise give hugs.

Visiting R.C. meant we would be eating out, a real treat as the town I grew up in, Fort Defiance, didn't have much in the way of places where we could eat-out, moreover, our family budget wouldn't allow for it.

Lithography & Serigraphy

Lithographs & Serigraphs

Lithography is not my medium, so my knowledge of the complete process is limited. I have made every attempt to be as accurate as possible in my statements, and have omitted anything I was not able to verify.

What are Lithographs?


Lithography is the process of printing from stone. "Lithos" - Greek "stone" and "Graphein" - Greek "to write". The process was invented in 1796. It is the newest and best documented printing process.


Lithographs are art prints made using the lithographic process. This process can be applied to more practical images such as maps to produce a large number of identical prints. Unlike other methods of printing, lithography relies on the chemistry of water and oil to repel one-another, so there is no wear on the image as it prints. This allows the 1,000th and 10,000th print to be of identical quality and detail to the first. This makes lithography a wonderful tool for artists. Techniques, materials, and the skill of the printer all affect the final quality of a lithographic image.


True lithography should not be confused with "Offset Lithography" which is a common poster printing process and the term "lithograph" should not be applied to prints made using this process.

What are Serigraphs?

Sometimes referred to as screen-printing, serigraphy is a printmaking technique that makes use of stencil-masks to create an image. As with lithography, the tools, techniques and skills used by the printmaker affect the quality of the final print. For art images, a quality art paper  or cloth is typically selected as the canvas and high-quality pigment oil based inks are used as the media.