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  • Writer's pictureShea Stanfield

Ancient Traditions in Contemporary Form

“The scent of burning wood holds the strongest memory. Mesquite, cedar, pinon, and juniper are all distinct. The smoke travels deep to the seat of memory. We walk away from the fire; no matter how far we walk, we carry this scent with us.” Smoke in Our Hair, Ofelia Zepeda. Artist Dean Grissom was born between the memory of two ancient native cultures in Tucson, Arizona: the Tohono O'odham and the Pascua Yaqui people. Both are known for their traditional farming practices and traditional basket weaving techniques. Dean says, “In my youth, tribal histories, culture, art, and struggles inspired and moved my heart to influence my art today.”

Dean completed his Bachelor of Science in Biology and Education at Bob Jones University

in Greenville, South Carolina before moving to the Sacramento Valley of California to take up a career in farming. Dean explains that for the next thirty-five years, "I grew almonds before moving into row crops where I grew hundreds of acres of vegetables that were chopped up during harvest to obtain their seeds. The seeds were sequentially sold to seed companies around the world." Once Dean retired from farming, he moved to Spokane, Washington, working as a civilian as a heavy equipment operator in general construction with the United States Air Force. Upon retiring the second time, Dean returned to Arizona, settling in Phoenix, where his home is today.

Dean, always a lover of the ancient arts and woodworking, became fascinated with the concept of “basket illusion” art, prompting him to found DG Wood Turning. Dean set up a shop in his garage where he could let the sawdust fly while creating what could be referred to as his canvases of wood. Once the basic form is ready for the detailed work, Dean moves to his second studio in his home to complete the project. He states, “I am fascinated with the intricate patterns the Native People applied to their clay pots and woven baskets, so with woodburning tools and India ink, I can bring the concept to life using a very different approach.” The final creations are amazingly close replicas of the Native items produced from clay, reeds, grass, bark, and other materials found in the natural landscapes.

“In my youth, tribal histories, culture, art, and struggles inspired and moved my heart to influence my art today.”

Artist Dean Grissom shows his work at The Finer Arts Gallery in Cave Creek, Arizona, and On the Edge Gallery in Old Town Scottsdale, Arizona. Dean is a Phoenix Artists Guild and Arizona Artists Guild member. He’s also a juried member of the Sonoran Arts League. Dean participates in a number of shows throughout the year, including the annual Hidden in the Hills Studio Tour each November. Dean welcomes tours of his Phoenix studio collection by appointment through his email contact. Like the Tohono O'odham and the Pascua Yaqui People before him, Dean contributes to our modern culture by sharing ancient farming traditions, seed collection, preservation, and a love of creating intricately beautiful items in tribute to the indigenous people who care for these lands.


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