Sharon Irla ~ The Cherokee Nation

Published on August 3, 2012 by Amy

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Sharon Irla
Sharon Irla

Sharon Irla (born 1957) is an award-winning, Cherokee artist, enrolled in the Cherokee Nation. A self-taught artist, Irla began entering competitive art shows in 2003. Her collective body of works span the fields of painting, murals, graphics, photography, and custom picture frames with Southeastern Woodlands / Mississippian motifs. The majority of her awarded works are oil-on-canvas portraits of Cherokee women in both contemporary and historical settings.

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Irla’s most prevalent body of works are oil portraits of Native American women in both contemporary and historical settings. Her stated mission is to emphasize the complexity and importance of Native American women, thereby filing a perceived void in the artistic record.

“Throughout history,” Irla notes, “Native American women have been depicted in art far less often than Native American men, yet women played at least as important a role. For instance, the Cherokee used to have a Council of Women, and some Cherokee women, like Nanyehi (Nancy Ward), rose to the honored status of “Beloved Woman”, or “War Woman”. These women rendered considerably weighty tribal decisions, but we don’t find paintings of any of them.”


As a self-taught artist, Irla cites Caravaggio as being most influential toward the development of her own method, which she describes as “a combining of dramatic illumination and Old Masters technique.”

Community action and collaborations

Irla is a founding member of the Southeastern Indian Artists Association, formerly known as the Cherokee Artists Association which strives to promote Southeastern Woodlands art and protect the interests of Native American artists.

She assisted GaDuGi artists (Bill Glass, Gary Allen, Demos Glass, Robby McMurtry, and Ken Foster) with “The Passage,” an outdoor art installment at Ross Landing in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It was through Ross Landing that many Cherokee made passage to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) during the Trail of Tears.

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