Attitudes of Prayer

Retha Walden Gambaro

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children. We must treat it with respect.—Retha Walden Gambaro

gambaro_acceptancegambaro_courage gambaro_harvest

Left to right: “Acceptance”; “Courage”; “Harvest”

Retha Walden Gambaro was born in 1917 to Creek Indian parents in a one-room log cabin in Lenna, Oklahoma. The family moved from Oklahoma to California via Arizona. In later years after moving to the East coast, she worked in a metal working defense plant during World War II and used those skills to start cutting patterns and designing dresses. First Lady Pat Nixon was among her clients.

This award-winning sculptor did not begin her stellar career until age 52. Says Gambaro, “Mother Earth hersel welcomed me into a world that would give me all that I had missed until then.” Gambaro considers her “daily observation of spirituality in art forms” during her childhood in Oklahoma and Arizona to be her greatest education. She strives to achieve a special understanding between “sculptor, sculpture and viewer”. “I am most influenced by artists whose works speak of some spiritual experience.” Gambaro is inspired by her Creek heritage and enjoys blending of cultures, past and present.

Regarding Gambaro’s exhibit entitled Attitudes of Prayer presented at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, her daughter recounts, “She said something just took over her hands, and it was like a miracle. She’d be crying as she sculpted and she’d ask, ‘How am I doing this?’”

A New York Times writer reflects, “It’s hard to look at Mrs. Gambaro’s “Harvest,” which shows a seated woman holding a basket of corn, potatoes and prickly pears, or her “Gratitude,” in which a woman extends her hands toward the sky, without feeling a sense of calm. [Gambaro’s daughter] said that was characteristic of her mother. “She’s not sculpting anymore, but that spirituality that she had is still there. The nurses say that they love to visit her. She’s at peace.”

Gambaro’s work has been exhibited in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, the Gilcrease Museum, Oklahoma, and the Kennedy Center, Washington D.C. Her work is held in many private and public collections.

Related links:
Heard Gallery
The New York Times