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Violet Bear Allen, Artisan and Community Supporter

1938-2015

Violet Bear Allen
illustration by Brooke Smart

“Keep going and dreaming.”

by Katherine Kitterman

Historical Director, Better Days 2020

 

Violet Bear was born on March 22, 1938 to Iby Bear and Mary Jane Pete. Violet had a lasting influence on members of the Skull Valley Band of the Goshute tribe, both in honoring and continuing their traditional way of life, and in encouraging others to develop their own unique talents. Her life in Grantsville, Utah and on the Skull Valley Reservation was one of quiet determination, craftsmanship, and service.

Violet Bear Allen. Courtesy of the Allen family.

At the time Violet was born, only men could be enrolled members of the Skull Valley Goshute Band. Violet’s father, a Skull Valley Goshute member, had only daughters, but he wanted his family line to continue in the tribe so he helped change the practice so women could enroll as well as men. Today’s strong female leadership in the Skull Valley Band traces its legacy to Violet’s generation.

Violet was a talented and creative artist who made beautiful beadwork for jewelry, moccasins, fans, and gloves. She also tanned hides, made cradleboards, and smithed silver jewelry. Violet also loved sewing, crocheting, quilting, and cooking. Her craftsmanship was an expression of her heart, and she never used the same design twice. Her children have fond memories of helping her pick out beads for her pieces. Violet had been blessed by a Navajo medicine man to have a gift for art, and she often had dreams about her artwork. Violet also sang and wrote music. At one time, music producers in Nashville, Tennessee were interested in producing Violet’s music, but she declined. 

Mocassins made by Violet Bear Allen. Courtesy of the Allen family.

Word of Violet’s artistic skills and craftsmanship spread beyond her tribal and local community. Visitors from other states and countries would often come to her to commission beadwork when they were traveling in Utah. Violet also sold her work to stores in Salt Lake City, but both in the stores and at home, her pieces sold faster than she could make them. The library in Grantsville, Utah often exhibited her artwork.

Violet was a strong and determined woman who raised seven children on her own. She encouraged her children to get an education and not to let anybody stop them from becoming what they wanted to be. Despite dealing with health problems for most of her life, she persevered and pushed through her pain and focused her energy on helping others grow. She had a masterful green thumb and loved to spend time outdoors gardening.

Violet Bear Allen. Courtesy of the Allen family.

Violet’s home was always a welcoming place where neighbor kids would come to play, even after her own children had grown up and moved away. Everyone called her “Mom,” and kids who got into trouble would come to her for a listening ear. She had a gentle but powerful way of talking to kids–and adults–that helped them believe in their own potential. Violet was able to recognize people’s unique personalities and talents and encourage them to use their gifts. She seemed to know everyone in town and was always taking in stray animals.

Violet was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and also a strong believer in her traditional Native American ways. She believed the creator was everywhere. She wanted her native handicrafts to be passed down to her children, grandchildren, and others who wanted to learn. It was her way to help keep the culture alive even as language and land are lost. Violet passed away in 2015, one of the last remaining elders of the Skull Valley Band of Goshutes.

 

Thank you to Violet’s daughters, Mary Allen and Tiffiny Schmitges, for assisting with this biography.

To learn more about Native American voting rights in Utah, read our article here.


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