"Touching Leaves Woman"
(Nora Thompson Dean, 1907 - 1984)
Born in "Indian Territory" shortly before it became the State
of Oklahoma, Touching Leaves Woman was the last member of her tribe trained
as a nentpikes, or traditional healer, one of the few remaining speakers
of her language (Unami dialect), and one of the last full-blooded Lenape
The Lenape originally inhabited what is now New Jersey, lower New York,
Eastern Pennsylvania and Southeastern Delaware. William Penn, James Fenimore
Cooper and others fell under the spell of their musical language and were
captivated by their culture: to this day numerous other Algonquian tribes
refer to the Lenape respectfully as the "Grandfather Nation."
Pushed from their homeland by an unstoppable tide of Euro-American settlers,
the Lenape were removed to Ontario, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma. Many of the
latter learned to survive as Plains Indians, hunting the buffalo and serving
as guides to such noted explorers as John Fremont and Kit Carson.
As a young woman, Touching Leaves participated in the Big House rites
and other important Lenape ceremonies which died out in the 1920s and
30s, and her later years were devoted to furthering knowledge of Lenape
language and culture. She worked with numerous linguists, anthropologists
and historians, and contributed to more than one hundred publications.
The artist’s brother, Dr. David Oestreicher, recorded her memories,
language and traditions, and is preparing her biography. Touching Leaves
by a number of mayors and governors, including New York City’s Mayor
Edward I. Koch and Governor Nigh of Oklahoma, who proclaimed her an "Oklahoma
Ambassador of Good Will."
Artist Paul Oestreicher worked closely with Touching Leaves, creating
early studies for this bronze at her home in Dewey, Oklahoma. Above all,
it was her wish that knowledge of her people be preserved. It is hoped
that this portrait of Touching Leaves, and of other Lenape made by the
artist, will help keep alive the faces, dreams, and dignity of this ancient
and proud people.
There are six castings of Touching Leaves Woman in private collections,
and a seventh
permanently featured in the exhibition: "In Search of the Lenape:
The Delaware Indians Past and Present", which has toured museums
and historical sights in New York and New Jersey. Additionally, the sculpture
was selected by officials of the U.S. Department of State for display
abroad as work representative of American art, and has been featured at
the Ambassador’s Residence in Guatemala.