A Goo Gwa Ka O-Wa Na, or Women's Dance

Thomas J. Dorsey (1920-1993)
Date: 1942
Medium: Gouache on composition board
Dimensions: 20 1/8 H x 16 W

Signed lower right: Dorsey; inscribed lower left: A GOO GWA KA O-WA NA

Credit: Albany Institute of History & Art Purchase
Accession Number: 1942.93.17

This is one of seventeen paintings called Iroquois Games and Dances by Thomas J. Dorsey, Jr., also known by his Native American name, Tom Two Arrows. Dorsey was a member of the Delaware (Lenni-Lenapee) tribe adopted by the Onondagas (an Iroquois tribe). While working on this series, Dorsey spent six weeks on the Onondaga reservation near Syracuse. He hoped to reveal to the broader American public the richness and vitality of traditional Iroquois culture that he knew firsthand. With its use of bright, decorative colors and compositions based on patterning and symmetry, Dorsey's style shows a savvy blending of elements from traditional Native American arts and modernist abstraction. The dance shown in this static, horizontally aligned composition reenacts the Iroquois creation story. (Skywoman's shuffling steps shaped what became Mother Earth.)