Inez L. Running-rabbit

March 01, 1920 - March 12, 2010

Inez L. Running-rabbit

March 01, 1920 - March 12, 2010


Remembering Inez by Robin Henson Inez was born in 1920. She was raised in the fragmented Indian community of the Shawnee Indian Tribe in White Oak Oklahoma, where the tribe was placed during the Trail of Tears. Her legacy as a Shawnee Indian has great influence in her family. Most obvious is the Indian theme and portraits that are reflected in her artwork. One of her sons, Gary, has been involved with the heart of the Shawnee tribe most of his life. He has learned the Shawnee language and become a trusted and respected Indian Shaman. Inez’s grandson, Leaf, took Running-rabbit as his legal last name, with Inez’s blessing. Like Gary, he has also integrated many aspects of the Shawnee Indian traditions into his life, carving totem poles, erecting tee-pees, learning Indian music, leading sweat lodges and performing significant Indian rituals, including marriages and funerals. When Inez was raised, the schools were still segregated. She received her early education in the Indian schools run by the government. Her grandfather was a white man, a traveling evangelist who preached hell, fire, and brimstone. His influence on Inez’s mother proved catastrophic for Inez. Everything that was a core part of Inez’s identity was considered sinful by Inez’s family, including her love of music, dancing, and her passion for art and the artistic process. Inez never cut her hair because of the family’s strict religious code. It reached to the ground and was so enormously thick and heavy that it restricted her movement. In her mid-teens, she visited an aunt who convinced her to take the risk of cutting it off. She recounted how she was inconsolably stunned at the first sight of her new look. Her hair was so thick that it stuck straight out and up, as if in a state of shock, making her head look as big as the moon. In her and her aunt’s desperation to get control of it, they mistakenly permed it, making it much worse. When she returned home on the bus, her parents were quite aghast, and Inez never forgot the incident. She married Richard Harold Henson in 1937. Richard recalled how Inez’s parents were so against their marriage. They considered him to be a terrible sinner because he bought her dresses that went clear up to just below the knee, and encouraged her to wear red lipstick, and they loved to dance and listen to music. In the end, Inez’s parents begrudgingly agreed to the marriage. Once Robin asked his mother, “When did you first know you wanted to be an artist?” She recounted the memory of her first work of art. While her family was visiting some relatives one day, everyone else was outside in the back yard and Inez was alone in the kitchen. They had a large, gentle dog that stayed in the kitchen with Inez. On the table was a large jar of mustard. Yellow was Inez’s favorite color for her entire life. She got under the table with that big jar of mustard and the big, gentle dog. The dog got painted in yellow mustard from nose to tail. At three years old, she thought it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. Her delight was soon disturbed by the great tempest of emotion when all the family came in the door and saw the yellow dog. To me, that first work of art was a complete success. The greatest tragedy of Inez’s life was when her beloved son, Jimmy, was accidentally killed by electrocution at the age of 7. To make matters worse, her mother declared that Jimmy’s death was retribution from God for Inez’s ungodly behavior. Fortunately, that was one of the many challenges that Inez managed to overcome in her lifetime and so be able to die in peace. Today, Inez will be buried next to Jimmy and the anticipation of this was a great comfort to her. Inez gave birth to three other children, Judy, Gary and Robin. By 1952, the family moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma. By then, at age 32, she was a prolific potter and painter. One of Robin’s joys as a child was when Gary and he helped her deliver crates of her Indian pots to Lyon’s Indian store downtown. They collected the hard-earned check and went off to Froug’s department store. They bought new school clothes at the beginning of each new school year. Inez joined, as an associated artist, Philbrook Art Museum, where she stayed for ten years, rising to rank of president of the association. It was 1960 when she opened her first art gallery. Throughout her career, she had five art galleries. The first was “The Id Gallery” on Carson Street in Tulsa; the second was “The Beginning Art Gallery” on 15th Street between Lewis & Harvard in Tulsa; and the third was “The Raven Gallery” in north Hollywood, California. The fourth one was her most successful, “The Persimmon Seed” on Carson Street. The fifth one was “Running-rabbit Art Gallery” in Chelsea, where she made an incredible series of over 100 pastel works of art. She also did acrylic, watercolor, and oil paintings, hundreds of drawings, made thousands more beads, and wrote volumes of poetry. This prolific, multitalented Shawnee artist ended her public career in 2005 when she closed Running-rabbit Art Gallery, at the age of 85. Inez believed that, after love, good manners was the most valuable gift she could give her children. She did not believe children learned all they needed to know at school. Together with her children she read countless biographies of heroes, heroines, the great artists and composers, and cultural icons throughout history. They wore the covers off a set of encyclopedias and several dictionaries. She always said, “No child of mine is going to be ignorant!” When her son, Robin, was still a young boy, one of his interests was archery. Inez bought him a bow and all the materials to make his own arrows. She handmade all of his targets. Archery turned out to be one of his lifelong pursuits. In the last years when she lived with him, he won numerous traditional archery events. She always seemed so proud of all of her children and was quick to tell people about their successes. Inez was also a mother figure to numerous young people who had had to leave their homes and were unable to return to their own families for one reason or another. Some of them were pregnant and stayed for more than a year. Many kept in touch with Inez until the end. In December of 2006, Inez moved in with her son, Robin, and his wife, Susannah, to live out the remainder of her life. She continued to paint, draw, string beads, and write — up until 4 days before she passed. On her 90th birthday, they gave her new paper and pastels. She used them immediately. Two days before she passed, on March 10th, she looked across her room, pointed to the new materials and said, “Oh! If I get better, I’m sure going to work on those!” Over these last fleeting years, she reflected on her life. Her tremendous passion for life carried her to extreme highs, as well as lows. Just being a spectator of her life, her own son had to close his eyes many times. Life’s great lover passed away peacefully in her sleep at 1:40 am March 12, 2010, leaving this world immensely richer for having known her. In closing, we would like to share with you her last words, which Robin was fortunate enough to have the chance to write down: “I’m feeling good I’ll be all right I think people have such a hard time in life because they don’t understand how good they really are. Seems to me I’m understanding really well.” An “Outdoor Celebration of Life” will be held at 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, March 17, at Rolling Oaks Memorial Gardens, 4300 East 91st St., Tulsa, OK, with Mr. Gary Henson, Mr. Robin Henson, and Mr. Leaf Running-rabbit officiating. Arrangements provided by Butler-Stumpff Funeral Home, Tulsa, OK (918) 587-7000.

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4 responses to Inez L. Running-rabbit

  1. Miss u aunt inez!!!!

  2. Eamon Henson says:

    I miss you, Granma.., I know you know.., I love you, too! I won't… I'll see you soon! No, not too soon! Thank you!

  3. Just a child when I met Inez I remember her very beautiful paintings as all the adults in my life were painters I remember she had a big downtown Tulsa home. Always wondered about her name unique from everyone. never forgot her name. Nice to read were her name came from after so many years.

  4. Diann Berry says:

    I have owned a beautiful necklace I bought about 40 years ago. I was told it was made be Inez Running Rabbit. Just today I read her story. I don’t know why but I feel like I should talk to her family. At least I’d like to show them a picture of the necklace. Wine colored beads with a turquoise cross. I found it in a shop at 51 st and Harvard. If you’re interested, please e-mail me.  

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