There are Native American names most people recognize: Sitting Bull, Jim Thorpe, Ira Hayes. And there are other names that deserve to be recognized, but seldom are: Novelist James Welch, for example, Joy Harjo, the poet, and the painter who added splashes of color and design to Navajo culture, R. C. Gorman.

Gorman died on Nov. 3. And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, he was one of the most flattered artists in America. Called "The American Picasso" by the New York Times, Gorman often depicted blanketed Navajo women, usually sitting in the sun like grand colorful kilns. The images are now icons of American Indian art. Gorman's personal gallery in New Mexico — the Navajo Gallery — became so successful that imitating R.C. Gorman became a trend. When asked why he painted women, Gorman said it was because he liked women. When asked why he painted large women, he said they filled up the paper more.

Born in Chinle, Ariz., in 1931, Gorman came into vogue during the 1970s. The jet set snapped up his artwork. Celebrities were avid collectors. Elizabeth Taylor, Lee Marvin, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Erma Bombeck were all major fans. Andy Warhol admired Gorman so much he painted portraits of him.

People, rich and poor, all responded to Gorman's authenticity. As with Allan Houser, the former instructor at the Brigham City Intermountain Indian School whose work was showcased during the Winter Olympics in Utah, Gorman's work was the essence of simplicity, yet he endowed it with a hidden sense of mystery. Studying a Gorman painting, for many Americans and Native Americans alike, has been compared to attending church.

Throughout his career, Gorman's charm was his earthiness. He was a raised in a hogan in Arizona and even herded sheep as a boy. He earned money as a model for other artists and even spent a hitch in the Navy. His father was a Navajo code talker during World War II. And in later years, Gorman gave heart to all public school teachers by crediting a young art instructor at the Ganado Presbyterian Mission School, a woman named Jenny Lind, for setting him on his course to fame and supplying him with the tools to get there.