Joyce McCauley gives each piece individual attention – Great Basin Native Artists series, part six |

Joyce McCauley gives each piece individual attention – Great Basin Native Artists series, part six

By Teri Vance | Special to First Nation's Focus
Editor’s note: The Great Basin Native Artists series is a monthly feature story published by First Nation’s Focus, in partnership with the Carson City Culture and Tourism Authority. This is the sixth entry in the series, and it was first published in the August 2017 print edition of First Nation’s Focus. Visit to learn more about the Carson City Culture and Tourism Authority.

CARSON CITY, Nev. — Joyce McCauley has been sewing since her days at Douglas High School, where she grew up in the Dresslerville Indian Colony.

She started out making ribbon shirts for Natives in the military or for other formal wear.

“Instead of a suit and tie, some Native men prefer to wear a ribbon shirt to represent our culture,” she said. “It’s like a business suit to someone else.”

In 2012, Carson City fancy dancer Ben Rupert asked her to refurbish the regalia he wears to perform traditional dances at powwows and other ceremonies.

“He already had the stuff there, he just wanted to make it look newer,” she said. “I wasn’t sure what I was doing. But once I figured it out, I just kept doing it.”

Since then, she has sewn more regalia for Rupert and his son, John, along with others.

“For me, when I do a regalia, there’s more to it than just making an outfit,” she said. “I have to know what they dance and why they do it.”

McCauley, who has lived in Wadsworth for 35 years, is among five artists whose work is on display at the Carson City Culture and Tourism Authority, 716 N. Carson St., as part of the Great Basin Native Artists show.

It is the second set of artists to show in the gallery, and will remain on display through Nov. 23.

McCauley was raised in Dresslerville by her parents who met at Stewart Indian School. Her father was a Washoe and her mother from the Shoshone tribe in Fallon.

“My father spoke Washoe fluently, but he never passed it down to me,” she said. “Sometimes, it just feels like a part of me has been taken away.”

Through her work, she hopes to preserve some of those traditions that would otherwise be lost.

Her daughters also dance and make regalia, including making moccasins and beadwork.

Her grandchildren are also continuing in their heritage, with her 8-year-old granddaughter, Alani Barr, recently winning the Junior Fancy Shawl dance at the Shared Visions Powwow in Wadsworth.

“We live in two worlds,” McCauley said. “We live on our reservations, and we know our history. We do want to keep what we do have left and pass it on to our grandchildren.”

When making the traditional ceremonial clothing, McCauley first consults with the person requesting it.

“I make it all out of paper first,” she explained. “I create the design out of construction paper, with the colors and design they want. It’s a process. You have to figure out how to put all of that into fabric.”

The most important element, she said, is the connection between the garment and the person wearing it.

I can make ribbon shirts to just make them to sell, but normally they don’t sell that well,” McCauley said. “What sold better is when I took orders. Regalia and ribbon shirts, to a lot of people, are personal. It’s more than just clothing.”

Visit for more information about Great Basin Native Artists.