07 November 2012

Native Arts Publication Survey

If you have a few seconds, please take a brief online survey about Native art publications. I'm collecting information about what people would like and would not like to see in Native art writing. Feel free to forward the survey link: to any one you think might be interested. Thanks!

25 October 2012

Inner Demons IV

The fourth annual Inner Demons group art show showcasing the dark, disturbed, and simply wrong. The opening reception is Friday, October 26th, 6:00–9:00pm at Ahalenia Studios, 2889 Trades West, Unit E, Santa Fe.

The show will be open:
• Saturday, Oct. 27 and Sunday, Oct. 28, 2-6pm
• Saturday, Nov. 3 and Sunday, Nov. 4, 2-6pm
 From Monday, Oct. 30 through Friday, Nov. 2, open by appointment. Email to make an appointment. All events are free and open to the public.

Street parking only!!

Participating artists include:
Jealousy, Sharon Vargas, mixed media on Plexiglas
• Bryon Archuleta (Ohkay Owingeh)

• Jamison Chas Banks (Seneca-Cayuga-Cherokee)
• Shaun Beyale (Navajo)
• Jason Reed Brown (Koyukon Athabascan)
• Miguel Cera (Spanish-American)
• Melissa Dominguez (Spanish-American)
• Lara Evans (Cherokee Nation)
• J. Luna Gaudi (Spanish-American)
• Sam Haozous (Chiricahua Apache-Navajo)
• Topaz Jones (Shoshone-Lummi-Kalapuya-Molalla)
• Russ McCabe (Scottish-American)
• Daniel McCoy, Jr. (Potawatomi-Muscogee Creek-Seminole)
• Melissa Melero (Fallon Paiute-Modoc-Taino)
• America Meredith (Cherokee Nation)
• Laura Paschall (Cherokee Nation)
• Tammy Rahr (Cayuga Nation)
• Felicia Rodriguez (Spanish-American)
• Joseph Sanchez (Mestizo)
• Jacqueline Smith (Navajo)
• Neebinnaukzhik Southall (Ojibwe)
• Sharon Vargas (Spanish-American)

Show website:

30 September 2012

Cultivating Vocabulary: An Ongoing Process

Ah Tz'ib, a Mayan word referring to painters and writers
While it’s clear that we need new vocabulary to discuss Indigenous art; the effort to find new words seems to be stymied. One problem is, especially here in the southwest, there’s an incredible volume of writing about Native art, but it’s dominated by the language of marketing and hyperbole and seldom written by people with both a background in arts and Native cultures. 

The first obvious challenge is that much of the dialogue takes place in the English language, whose grammar is hardwired for antonyms, that is binary opposites, such as black/white, hot/cold, or right/wrong. In the language, these opposites seem clear cut and logical. However, in reality, couldn’t transparent be the opposite of black or morally relative between the opposite of both right and wrong? The pairing of concepts as binary opposites is rife with unspoken assumptions that steer the ensuing dialogue in a predetermined direction. That’s why I have tried in the past to write about the futility of any discussion positioning traditional in opposition to contemporary or craft against fine art. The racism at the core of these pairings is inexcusable—the notion that tribally specific art or art informed by tribal values is old fading away before the Western-sanctioned new or that artists using non-Western forms have no content or message to convey but are only repeating decorative utilitarian forms.

Traditional is not a bad word at all, but everyone has her or his own definition of it. As Scott Ennis (Cherokee Nation) once said, “Tradition is like cornbread; everyone has their own recipe, but it’s still cornbread.” Personally, I view traditional as being ceremonially involved in one’s tribe, speaking one’s language, reflecting and living one’s tribal worldview, which is all completely positive and something to aspire to. Locally, some Pueblo people see traditional art as following procedures and artistic prescribed collectively for a reason. Whether tradition describes what’s in a person’s heart or in techniques and aesthetics (or both), it’s a term grounded in an Indigenous community. If an artist is creating video art of their tribal members using their own language, wouldn’t that be traditional?

A place to reject the word traditional is how it is used in marketing transitional Native art forms. A great deal stays the same in the Native art world because vast quantities of money is invested in keeping things the same. Because certain art forms were marketed in a certain way in the early 20th century, other dealers want to keep artists in their ascribed categories. For instance, the notion that overlay silver working technique is Hopi. The overlay style was developed and promoted by Hopi artists such as Fred Kabotie and Paul Saufkie for veterans returning from World War II (Byrne et al. 191–192). The fact that people initially resisted Charles Loloma’s use of gold in jewelry boggles my mind, when Hopi jewelers only adopted silverwork in the late 19th century. That’s on par with Oscar Howe’s 1958 rejection from the Philbrook since he didn’t paint Flatstyle, which was developed in the 1910s to 1930s. That drive, usually by non-Natives, to freeze art in time should has nothing to with the Indigenous perspective of tradition and should be actively resisted.

From a modernist Western perspective, integration within one's community hasn’t necessarily been the ideal in art; individual self-expression has been celebrated—even fetishized in the romantic vision of a lone genius struggling in a studio. The primacy of community versus the individual could be a potential fault line between Native and non-Native art; however, I believe the best of post-modern Western art is in the process of evolving back toward the community in the arts. Especially since so many historical art stars have had innumerable people working with them to fabricate their art.

And historically, “innovation” has been celebrated in Western art over “tradition”, in the sense of recreating pre-existing forms or designs; however, it’s easy to argue that there’s nothing new under the sun and a great deal of “innovation” is just appropriation. Appropriation, or the reuse or reference of early artworks, is the earmark of the contemporary art world. An excellent example of this is the work of Sherrie Levine, who in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, photographed or recreated famous pieces of art, shifting their context. In 1982, Levin rephotographed the Great Depression-era social realist photographs of Walker Evans (Owens 114). How do the artworks change, now they are by a woman in the 1980s instead of a man in the 1930s? I would argue that there also incredibly potent conceptual possibilities behind a 2010s Odawa basket weaver weaving a black ash basket — how has the environment shifted, how do pesticides and invasive species come into play, what range of technologies are employed, how has societies’ perception of basketry shifted and changed, what actions is the basket weaver performing that have no English words but can be described in the Odawa language?

Appropriation with a complete disregard for the earlier work's cultural context or meaning would be misappropriation — or a banal or commercial use of sacred imagery. That could be another point of departure between Western and Native art since the brunt of Western art is forcefully secular.

“Derivative” doesn’t get used much in Native art but it should, since it implies a copying that doesn’t renew or add to meaning but rather produces a weaker copy, akin to cloning plants. An artist who copies but doesn’t acknowledge the source would be derivative, and an artist using symbols without understanding or at least striving to understand their meanings might also be described this way.

Obviously, these are just stray thoughts on an ongoing major discussion, but I have observed that discourse improves when more precise terms are substituted for worn out, catchall terms. What the hell is authenticity? Why not discuss honesty? Is an artwork traditional or is it historical, tribally specific, customary, or using non-Western media?

While it can be a challenge to make the leap from English to tribal languages, the wisdom is stored within the languages. I just learned an amazing word, Eqqumiitsuliorneq, which is the Greenland Inuit word for art and more literately translates to mean “odds products, something artificial” (Arke 5).  The Cherokee word for art, ᏗᏟᎶᏍᏙᏗ or ditlilosdodi, refers to making an imitation of reality. The Muscogee Creek word for art is nakvkakv and their word for artist is nakvjayv (Martin and Mauldin 193). A Minnesota Ojibwe word for artist is mazinibii’igewinini (Nichols and Nyholm 80). The Mayan word uj uxul literately means “he of the burnishing/scratching” and is also the title of the royal sculptor (Montgomery).

Not every tribe has a word for “art,” as we are so often informed, but related words are also potent. The Navajo word, hózhó, has had a widespread impact on art discussion. Extrapolating from Harry Walters’ definition, author Mary Lawlor writes, “The sense of beauty invoked in the term is clearly not synonymous with Western concepts that emphasize an exclusively visual appeal based on limited aesthetic criteria. Hózhó implies harmony as well as ethical and moral strength, which derived from a fluent relationship between the one who is hózhó and other beings in a social or spiritual environment” (Lawlor 68).

I’m extremely curious to hear other people’s “forbidden words” they would like stricken from Native art discourse and to hear more Indigenous words for art.

Lane stitch on Arapaho moccasin, 1880s
Addendum: An example of improving terminology is using the term "lane stitch" for the technique of sewing parallel lines of beadwork with single stitches at each end. This stitch was once known as "lazy squaw stitch," an utterly insulting term, then it became known as "lazy stitch." For anyone who's tried their hand at beadwork, there's nothing "lazy" about it. The current term, "lane stitch" is both neutral and actually describes the nature of the stitch.
  • Arke, Pia. “Act 5: Ethno-Aesthetics.” Re-Thinking Nordic Colonialism. 2006. Web.
  • Lawlor, Mary. Public Native America: Tribal Self-Representations in Museums, Powwows, and Casinos. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2006. Web.
  • Martin, Jack B. and Margaret McKane Mauldin. A Dictionary of Creek/Muskogee. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004. Print.
  • Montgomery, John. “AJ u-xu-[lu]. Dictionary of Maya Hieroglyphs. Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies.
  • Nichols, John D. and Earl Nyholm. A Concise Dictionary of Minnesota Ojibwe. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995. Web.
  • Owens, Craig. Beyond Recognition: Representation, Power, and Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994. Web.

11 September 2012

In a Nutshell, Part 2

When someone mentions a supposed dichotomy between "fine arts" and "crafts" in Indigenous American art, I scan for escape routes. That conversation goes nowhere, because the unspoken framework governing those terms is fundamentally at odds with Indigenous art.

The notion of "art for art's sake," that visual art should have no utilitarian purpose, was proposed by Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant in his 1790 Critique of Judgement (Fenner 7) and was echoed by many others in the following century. "During this period, 'the fine arts' were those that fit the aestheticist criteria for art for the sake of art and for the sake of nothing else," writes author David E. W. Fenner (7). This Enlightenment era philosophy still echoes among those would haven't studied any art theory in the last century.

A certain cadre of European and European-American thinkers strove to separate art from the banality of daily life, then subsequently, others have spent the last hundred years attempting to re-integrate art into people's lives. The Arts and Craft moment, John Dewey's book Art as Experience (1934), happenings of the 1960s, Thomas Crow's Modern Art in the Common Culture (1998), public art, street art, relational art, community art, etc.

My tribe never signed up to follow Kant or separate our art from our the rest of our lives. Aesthetics and content are interwoven in our artistic creations, ranging from installation to gig-making to basketry to digital art to featherwork.

Martin A. Berger sums up the situation with rare lucidity: "...trac[ing] our modern conception of art back to the eighteenth-century separation of the fine arts from crafts, of artists from artisans, and of aesthetic pleasure from entertainment. These divisions broke a two-thousand-year-old Western convention that art was any activity practiced with skill and grace. In the modern West, art came to be defined by the product created, the person making it, and the experience it generated in audiences rather than the quality of what was fashioned. [Larry] Shiner notes how this new definition of art helped consolidate relations of power: 'To elevate some genres to the spiritual status of fine art and their producers to heroic creators while relegating other genres to the status of mere utility and their producers to fabricators is more than a conceptual transformation.' He points out that 'the genres and activities chosen for elevation and those chosen for demotion reinforce race, class, and gender lines.'" (Berger 99–100).

Berger continues, "Since cultures outside of the West had never divorced aesthetics from utility, it was easy for European-Americans to devalue even visually alluring objects nonwhite peoples produced, given that such object always served a practical function" (Berger 100).
  • Berger, Martin A. A Sight Unseen: Whiteness and American Visual Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.
  • Fenner, David E. W. Art in Context: Understanding Aesthetic Value. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2008.

05 September 2012

Cherokee Stories of the Turtle Island Liars' Club

ᎦᎵᎡᎵᎦ! Cherokee Stories of the Turtle Island Liars' Club has just been published by the University of North Carolina Press. The result of years of collaboration between Christopher B. Teuton, a Cherokee author, literary critic, and associate professor, and the Turtle Island Liars' Club, a storytelling group from northeastern Oklahoma featuring Woody Hansen, Sequoyah Guess, Sammy Sill, and the late Hastings Shade, former Deputy Chief of the Cherokee Nation and Cherokee National Treasures. The storytelling group includes citizens of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians and the Cherokee Nation, both of Oklahoma, and they maintain close ties with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, located in North Carolina.

Dr. Teuton (Cherokee Nation) is currently part of the University of North Carolina's Department of American Studies and specializes in American Indian literature. He has dedicated years to recording stories of the Liars' Club and interviewing the members of the group. Through a yearlong residency at the School of Advanced Research in Santa Fe, Teuton was able to edit and develop the text for the book. From the SAR website, "there is no precise word in Cherokee for storytelling. In a language full of puns, the term used instead is gagoga, the word for lying—which brings us to the Turtle Island Liars’ Club."

Water Spider Steals Fire, America Meredith
Cherokee Stories of the Turtle Island Liars' Club is the first collection of Western Cherokee oral history to be published in almost 40 years, when Jack and Anna Kilpatrick wrote their beloved work, Friends of Thunder: Folktales of the Oklahoma Cherokees. Teuton's new book reveals how Cherokee storytelling continues to evolve to reflect current events, while maintaining an unbroken to Cherokee prehistory. Forty stories are interwoven with biographical information about the four storytellers. The Cherokee language, both transliterated and in Sequoyah's syllabary, is used freely through the book. I had the distinct honor of illustrating the book, which tested my ability to visualize ancient Cherokees and their animal friends.

Cherokee author Daniel Heath Justice writes, "This will be a deeply treasured book for Cherokee individuals, families, and communities, as it shows beyond any doubt how rich, complex, and beautiful Cherokee oral and literary expressions continue to be in this chaotic world. It is easily one of the most important books on Cherokee worldview and tradition ever written."

21 August 2012

Art Exhibitions and the Cultural Landscape - Santa Fe Community College

Last week a golden opportunity came my way — teaching ARTS 165, "Art Exhibitions and the Cultural Landscape," at Santa Fe Community College. The 3-credit course will meet Wednesday, 9-11:30 am, beginning tomorrow, August 22nd; however, it's not too late to enroll! You can audit the class as well, without having to order transcripts. The class meets on SFCC's main campus in room 711.

This course will examine the social, cultural, and political complexities of art and exhibitions. We'll focus on the many cultural in the New Mexican art scene, especially Native American American and Latino, but will also look at cross-cultural communication, urban and rural art, and exhibiting internationally. Guest speakers will discuss cultural sensitivity, repatriation, their own experiences navigating their curatorial practices and finding a space for their artistic expressions in the larger art world. Besides museums and commercial gallery spaces, we will look at alternative art spaces and experimental exhibitions.

This course is a component in the SFCC Gallery Management degree program and transfers to IAIA. For more information, call (505) 428-1501. For registration information, go here.

16 August 2012

Low-Rez: Native American Lowbrow Art

"Reclamation: Manifestations of Changing Woman," Nani Chacon, oil on masonite
Santa Fe, NM — Low-Rez: Native American Lowbrow Art is a group art show of emerging and established Native artists working in the “lowbrow” genre of Pop Surrealism. The show runs from August 17 to September 1, 2012, and opens with a reception on Friday, August 17, 5:30 – 9:00 pm at 131 West San Francisco Street, First Floor near the downtown Santa Fe Plaza. A closing reception will be held on Saturday, September 1st, from 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm. Both events are free and open to the public.

Participating artists include: Jamison Chas Banks (Seneca-Cayuga-Cherokee), Nanibah “Nani” Chacon (Navajo), Brent Greenwood (Ponca-Chickasaw), Amber Gunn Gauthier (Ho-Chunk–Menominee), April Holder (Sac and Fox-Wichita-Tonkawa), Topaz Jones (Shoshone-Lummi-Kalapuya-Molalla), Randy Kemp (Choctaw-Yuchi), Linda Lomahaftewa (Hopi-Choctaw), Cannupa Hanska Luger (Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara), Daniel McCoy, Jr. (Potawatomi-Muscogee Creek), America Meredith (Cherokee Nation), Chris Pappan (Osage-Kaw-Cheyenne River Sioux), Jeremy Singer (Navajo), Monty Singer (Navajo), Ryan Singer (Navajo), Hoka Skenandore (Luiseño-Oneida-Oglala Lakota), “The Werewulf” Micah Wesley (Kiowa-Muscogee Creek), and Debra Yepa-Pappan (Jemez-Korean). The show will also feature a mural by Jamison Chas Banks and Keith Secola (Northern Ute), both recent IAIA graduates.

Coming from diverse backgrounds and experiences, these artists are united in their use of pop cultural imagery to express themselves as contemporary indigenous peoples. Most of the artists attended the Institute of American Indian Arts, a school dedicated to Native artists choosing their own path in self-representation, and most are participating in SWAIA’s Indian Market.

Redemption March, Ryan Singer (Navajo), acrylic, 2012
Lowbrow Art, also called Pop Surrealism, has mushroomed over the last few decades, as a response to overblown bombastic excesses of conceptual art and a return to a love of craft and technique in art making. Santa Fe has been an epicenter for the Native Pop movement, in which artists use pop imagery to explode non-native fantasies of Indians as the timeless “Noble Savage” and to establish entry points for audiences who might not be familiar with tribal histories or imagery. The subversive humor of Native Pop and Lowbrow Art provides a perfect vehicle for social commentary without becoming preachy or propagandist.

The pop imagery used by the artists isn’t random. Often it reflects traditional Native imagery that was co-opted by mass media—Trickster Rabbit as Bugs Bunny, Princess Leia’s Hopi butterfly whorl hair-do, Taos Pueblo artist Pop Chalee’s blue deer paintings transformed by Walt Disney into “Bambi”—acts of re-appropriation.

Pin-up girls are transformed by the hand of Amber Gunn Gauthier and Nani Chacon from sex objects for voyeurs to symbols of empowered women who own their sexuality. Chris Pappan turns traditional ledger art on its head. Linda Lomahaftewa was part of the initial wave of Native Pop artists and was a classmate of T. C. Cannon at IAIA. Lomahaftewa lived in the Bay Area in the 1960s and 1970s and will exhibit monotypes with UFO-imagery. Micah Wesley and Cannupa Hanska Luger were part of the Humble Collective, an artist-run space that challenged and inspired waves of artists over the last decade.

Daniel McCoy combines comic book imagery with imagery from traditional Muscogee ceremonial grounds of his youth, with wry to dark humor. McCoy will create a large scale, site-specific installation at the street-level San Francisco gallery space.

The art show’s website is at

09 July 2012

Heather Ahtone Reads Beneath the Surface

Parking Lot, Joe Feddersen (Colville), glass, 2003
In her 2009 essay, “Designed to Last,” Choctaw-Chickasaw artist, writer, and curator Heather Ahtone proposed a means of critiquing indigenous American art based on indigenous art theory. In her essay “Reading Beneath the Surface: Joe Feddersen’s Parking Lot,” presented at the College Art Association Conference and published earlier this year in Wicazo Sa Review, she puts her ideas into action by critiquing a sculpture by Joe Feddersen using indigenous methodologies.

Her introduction lets us know exactly what's at stake. “Every time an Indigenous artist creates an object that reflects concepts rooted within her culture this same artists is perpetuating the culture one more day as an act of self-determination,” Ahtone writes at the opening of the essay. She continues, “While every effort of political and religious assault has been made historically to subdue these same cultures, their survival can be partially attributed to the continued production of visual and performance arts” (Ahtone 73).

Ahtone writes that indigenous epistemology—“ways of knowing”—differs fundamentally from Western ways of knowing (74). While this is relatively obvious to most readers, she further points out that indigenous learning is not “parallel or perpendicular” (74); that is, indigenous knowledge is not the Other or opposite of Western knowledge. Indigenous knowledge is not universal but instead must be grounded in local tribal cultures and worldviews. To critique an artwork based on indigenous values, Ahtone examines materiality, metaphor and symbolism, and cultural reciprocity (74).

Joe Feddersen, whose glass sculpture is critiqued here, is Okanagan and an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in Washington State. He earned his MFA at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was a printmaker and basket weaver before moving into glass art. Using textures from Plateau textiles that symbolize aspects of the natural environment, Feddersen creates a dialogue about the shifting environment and the impact of human development in the Columbia Basin (Askren).

Collaborating with Tlingit artist Preston Singletary, Feddersen embarked on an Urban Indian series. In 2003, he created Parking Lot, a 14 inch tall blown and sandblasted glass sculpture. The translucent, milky-white surface carries the texture of …, which is overlaid with an olive green rim and structures of perpendicular black lines.

Ahtone sees the overall cylindrical form as being reminiscent of a “sally bag,” a flexible basket common throughout the Plateau region (76). The materiality of the piece juxtaposes the implied basket’s soft and pliable surface with the rigidity of glass. Navajo-Wasco artist and author Elizabeth Woody wrote, “Feddersen’s use of glass speaks of our human fragility” and of his choice of the color white, Woody writes “the shell of the basket with the ephemeral density of a cloud” (78).

Feddersen’s use of metaphor and symbolism is overt and deliberate. A metaphor directly substitutes on concept or object for another, while a symbol implies something else. The symbol might be a much more simplistic shorthand for the concept it references. The Plateau weaving designs that Feddersen has incorporating into his printmaking, weaving, and glasswork are extremely spare, abstract geometric designs, and yet they are symbolic and inspired by elements seen in daily life, such as snake tracks on the ground (Askren). The textured surface of Parking Lot has four repeating patterns of chevrons etched on its surface. Feddersen explains that the chevrons “are actually the designs for woman in Plateau culture, kind of like an hourglass design, kind of a winding vase” (79). He learned traditional symbolism from Okanagan weavers but an elder pointed out that the meanings of the widespread symbols change from community to communities (79). By using this symbol, Feddersen “invigorates it as a continued part of the cultural dialogue and… contemporizes the language in its usage” (79).

Vessels themselves are commonly allegories for women. In the Okanagan worldview, “woman is a living metaphor for the earth” (79). The art audience can automatically juxtapose this view with the European-American view of woman as earth, and therefore, ripe for domination. Dynamical tension is conjured between these two referenced worldviews. Okanagan oral history describes the earth “as a woman ‘who gives birth to life forms’” who was once a human being and is still alive (79-80). The etched basket surface suggested grass, which is seen as the hair of the living female earth (80).

Then the black lines on the vessel are diagrams for parking lots, invented in the late 1920s. Ahtone sees these as referencing contemporary migration patterns, which “form the basis of how most Americans relate to the earth—through a mediated system of transit routes…” (80).

Cultural reciprocity is the third lens in which Ahtone critiques indigenous art and is “an act of gratitude by an artist for their culture heritage” (81). Feddersen is keenly aware of place-based culture, and he incorporates landmarks, or “vital signs,” such as electric lines and railroad tracks into his expression of evolving Okanagan culture (81). “By using the traditional signs,” Feddersen says, “we talk about what the meaning is and they become part of our visual vocabulary rather than something that is purely historical” (82).

Looking at the artwork from a strict formalist approach, that is, looking only at visual aesthetic qualities of the work—an approach espoused by mid-20th century art critics—would completely miss the content of a work such as Parking Lot. Feddersen deliberately uses contemporary imagery and symbols to bring his cultural traditions into the present. Ahtone’s critique brings the content forward in a manner that could be understood by Native and non-Native readers alike. Personally, I’m well acquainted with the mental wall that some non-Native art audiences reach when viewing Native artwork. Facing the situation of having to understand the cultural contexts of hundreds of different tribes seems overwhelming to fully understand Native art; however, it’s not a matter of getting cultural background to then get the works’ content. The cultural background is much the works’ content, and further understanding the worldview enhances the audience’s understanding of being Human.
  • Ahtone, Heather. “Reading Beneath the Surface: Joe Feddersen’s Parking Lot.” Wicazo Sa Review, Vol. 27, Number 1, Spring 2012: 73-84.
  • Askren, Mique’l. “Joe Feddersen.” Museum of Contemporary Native Arts: Vision Project. Web.

27 June 2012

Travels to England: Indigenous Brilliance - Messengers - Emissaries of Peace

The King's Men, part of the Rollright Stones in Warwickshire
Three events conspired to lure me over to England for the first time. Two were contemporary Native American art shows. Indigenous Brilliance opened at the Highgate Institute in London, and Messengers at Rainmaker Art Gallery in Bristol. The third event was the Emissaries of Peace, a tour sponsored by Cherokee Nation Tourism, which retraced the travels of three Cherokee leaders who traveled to England 250 years ago to meet King George. These were sandwiched just between the Queen’s Jubilee and the London Olympics, making London crowded and tickets expensive — but the trip was well worth it.

I flew into Bristol the day of the opening of Messengers—not a smart move—and muddled through it with only three hours of sleep. Marcus Amerman was in town and assisted with developing the concept of the show. Joanne Prince, owner of Rainmaker Art Gallery, saw the idea of messengers, and artists as messengers, working on many different levels. 18 contemporary artists participated in the show. While most were painters, photographers, and printmakers, Melissa Cody (Navajo) showed weavings, Kelly Church (Odawa-Ojibwe) showed birchbark bitings, and Marcus Amerman (Choctaw) showed both representational and stylized pictorial beadwork. As a former bike messenger, I took the art show’s theme extremely literately and painting small portraits of a Pawnee motorcycle messenger and Navajo/Mestizo walking messenger from San Francisco. Edgar Heap of Birds (Cheyenne) was also present, as he was traveling through London and Paris on business.

Rainmaker Gallery in Bristol, England
Joanne rented a nearby textile workshop for artist talks the next day. Marcus presented about creativity and his inspirations in working in so many media— beadwork, painting, fashion design, installation, glass, and performance art. Edgar showed videos about his 2005 public art sculpture and installation, Wheel, at the Denver Art Museum, and his 2007 art installation, Most Serene Republics. I presented about Linda Lomahaftewa and my journey through the southeast visiting archaeological sites and the art we created based on our experienced. Sarah Sense (Chitimacha-Choctaw) could not make the trip after all, so I filled in for her and presented about ancient Andean art with an emphasis on textiles art.

Unbelievably, some people stay from the beginning to the end of the talks. Max Carocci, Programme Director of World Arts and Artefacts at the British Museum, traveled over to Bristol to attend the talks. He has worked with contemporary Kiowa artists and has written several books about Plains Indian art.

It was strange but refreshing to be able to comment frankly, through art and words, on the history of US injustice against indigenous Americans without encountering the usual layers of resistance or denial. People in the audience really listened and soaked up information. They also came to the table with a great deal of knowledge. Some of the lecture-goers had traveled to Mayan temples or to South America where they had firsthand experience with Cusco School paintings or the Nazca Lines.

Bristol is the home of Banksy and actively embraces street art. They have amazing graffiti and street murals, but unfortunately I didn’t get to explore much in my short stay. Thanks so much to Maria who let me stay in her house, Andy Pink who gave myself and other artists rides, Sophie who assists at the gallery and gave Marcus and I a tour of Bath—Jane Austen’s turf!— to Emelia, my fellow Cherokee-Swede who helped with the show, and especially to Joanne whose vision brought us all together.

A messenger friend from San Francisco, Joel, lived in the sleepy northern hamlet of the Priors Marston, so I got to explore centuries-old churches and millennia-old standing stones with him, his wife Becky, and daughter Aleisha. Incredibly beautiful country steeped in history. Thank you so much for your messengerosity! (That’s Howard Williams’ term for the inherent generosity that messengers share.)

Elija below work by Bryon Archuleta (Ohkay Owingeh)
In London, Cornelia “Elija” Vandenberg curated Indigenous Brilliance with Lyle Toledo Yazzie, a Navajo jeweler and collage artist. Elija is a human rights activist originally from the Netherlands, who has curated indigenous before and is keenly interested in showcasing political work. Lyle coordinated with many artists in the US and together they showcased over 70 works by 30 different artists. Bryon Archuleta (Ohkay Owingeh) came to the show’s opening and helped hang work the day after he arrived. No rest for the wicked! Elija reported that interest was high and the show at Highgate has seen a steady stream of visitors. Paul and Max from the British Museum attended. A non-native English artist, Gary Wells showed two pieces that I thought were great, combining vibrant, Celtic-inspired calligraphy with stencilwork featuring gunpowder. Many of the artists are activists in different causes, including Michael Horse, the actor and AIM member, who has championed ledger art for years. Osage artist Matt Jarvis brought images of the Oklahoma sky into the show with his digital photocollage, Meditation No. 1—Osage Meditations, and Steve Hapy (Anishinaabe) commented on diabetes in his visceral and highly textural piece, Diabetes, painting on an American flag.

Edward Chamberlain and Lyle Toledo Yazzie examine jewelry
Lyle had arranged with the British Museum to see their collection of contemporary southwest jewelry, and graciously let me tag along. We were please to see Hopi jeweler Michael Kabotie’s work in their collection, as well as a beautiful piece by Gail Bird (Santa Domingo) and Yazzie Johnson (Navajo)—who helped enable me to make the trip over! Jack Davy, Museum Assistant for North America, shows the items from the permanent collection and shared with us the internal database for the museum.

The North American room at the British Museum featured a survey of Canadian and United States indigenous art, from precontact, historical, modern, and contemporary, which included works by Bob Haozous and Diego Romero on permanent display. Their collection of avian and feline Hopewellian platform pipes is extraordinary. But their indigenous Mexican room is truly incredible, featuring elaborate turquoise mosaic sculptures, including the famous Aztec double-headed serpent. Believed to be a gift from Moctezuma II to the Spanish invader Hernán Cortés from 1519, the carved wooden serpent is covered with over 2000 pieces of turquoise, conch, and delicate crab shell.

Early 18th century Cherokee incised gourd
The next day, I returned to the British Museum to meet up with the Cherokee delegation. They arrived, joking and laughing more than anyone else I’d seen in the country (except maybe Marcus). The trip was arranged by Cherokee Nation Tourism, and everyone paid their own way. People from all three Cherokee tribes participated and they retraced the steps of Ostenaco, Standing Turkey (Cunne Shote), and Woyi. The Cherokee men were accompanied by Henry Timberlake and met with King George III. The 2012 group of Cherokees met with a wide range of officials and politicians (the Queen, presumably was too preoccupied with jubilee-ing it up to meet with our friends). I actually have no idea why I didn’t join this trip, since I met a bunch of interesting Cherokee people just in that short afternoon, including beadwork and storyteller Corey Still.

Jack Davy’s showed us several early 18th century Cherokee prints from the British Museum’s permanent collection, as well as a rare geometric beaded sash on stroud cloth with intact selvage, an incised gourd with a wooden stopper, and a double-woven rivercane basket with lid whose dyes were incredibly brilliant considering the basket was almost two centuries old. Afterwards, my cousin and Cherokee historian and genealogist extraordinaire Jack Baker; historian
Cherokee visitors presenting British Museum staff
with gifts of Cherokee pottery
and director of the Gilcrease Museum, Duane King; and writer and former curator at the IAIA museum, B. Lynne Harlan got to see rare, seldom published portraits of Richard Justice and Moses Price (both Cherokee) by William Hodges (1744-1797) at the Hunterian Royal College of Surgeons. Ironically, a graduate student was taking a survey about how comfortable people felt seeing human remains on display. She certainly got a mouthful from us, and she already knew about NAGPRA.

Other than that, I ate a million pasties, functioned (barely) without my phone or internet in my hotel, and finally located and paid homage to the house from Spaced. Thanks so much to everyone who made this trip possible and who I met on the way. I've heard that CN Tourism is a little done in from planning the England, but my sister pointed out, we can organize our own Cherokee trip through Wales!

London Calling 1762, America Meredith, acrylic, gel medium, five pound note, and map on panel, 2012

23 June 2012

Changing Hands CONNECTIONS: We Are Here, Monday, June 25th

Ironworker Cradleboard, Donald "Babe" Hemlock, maple, pine, ash, painter, fur, hide, instestines, 2011
Last in a series of cutting-edge contemporary Native art exhibitions, the newest Changing Hands exhibition will feature Eastern Woodlands art. The National Museum of the American Indian Heye center in New York City will host a series of lectures and discussions on Monday, June 25th. The event is free and open to the public.

 Changing Hands CONNECTIONS: We Are Here
Monday, June 25th: 11 AM–6 PM
This one-day program explores contemporary art from an indigenous perspective—aesthetics, ideas, contexts and contrasts—with leading artists, curators, and critical thinkers. Work by artists featured in We Are Here, Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellowship, and Changing Hands: Art Without Reservation, Part 3, the final exhibition in the groundbreaking series surveying cutting edge contemporary Native art, organized by the Museum of Arts and Design, will serve as the launching point for this continuing discourse.

CONNECTIONS: The Curators and the Artists, a Conversation
11 AM–12 noon
Diker Pavilion, Ground Floor
NMAI in New York
1 Bowling Green

Ellen Taubman, Curator, Changing Hands: Art Without Reservation (2002–present) Jennifer McNutt, Curator, Eiteljorg Fellowship for Contemporary Art (1999–present) Marie Watt, Artist and former Eiteljorg Fellow Barry Ace, Artist and Changing Hands participating artist

CONNECTIONS: Contemporary Native Art in Context, a Panel
3:30–6 PM
Theatre, Lower Level
Museum of Arts and Design
2 Columbus Circle

Artists: Jeffrey Gibson, Robert Houle, George Longfish, Kent Monkman, Sarah Sense, and Skawennati

Moderators: Kate Morris, Santa Clara University, Judith Rodenbeck, Sarah Lawrence College
Limited seating. Please RSVP by June 11th for both events at:
For more information, click here.

12 June 2012

Messengers 2012 at Rainmaker Art Gallery, Bristol, UK

Messengers 2012 a group art show curated by Joanne Prince, an advocate for Native art and owner of Rainmaker Gallery in Bristol, England. The show features 18 contemporary Native American Indian artists from tribes across the continent.

As Prince says, "2012 is a pivotal year for the indigenous peoples of the Americas. As the current cycle of the Mayan calendar draws to a close, and in preparation for a new beginning when indigenous values will perhaps be more widely recognised and adopted, it is time to welcome the diverse and authentic messages and manifestations of contemporary Aboriginal American artists."

"My people will sleep for 100 years, and when they awake, it will be the artists who give them back their spirit." –Louis Riel, Métis revolutionary (Boyle and Racette 21).

Marcus Amerman (Choctaw), Sarah Sense (Chitimacha-Choctaw), Edgar Heap of Birds (Cheyenne), and myself will fly in especially to attend the opening and give talks, demonstrations, film screenings and discussions on Thursday June 14th.

Please contact the gallery for details:
call 0117 944 3101 or email

Participating artists include:
  • Cupcake (Pawnee), America Meredith, 2012
    Tony Abeyta (Navajo)
  • Marcus Amerman (Choctaw)
  • Shonto Begay (Navajo)
  • David Bradley (White Earth Ojibwe)
  • Kelly Church (Grand Traverse Odawa-Ojibwe)
  • Melissa Cody (Navajo)
  • Edgar Heap of Birds (Cheynne)
  • Frank Buffalo Hyde (Onondaga)
  • Linda Lomahaftewa (Hopi-Choctaw)
  • America Meredith (Cherokee Nation
  • Chris Pappan (Kaw-Osage-Lakota
  • Debra Yepa-Pappan (Jemez Pueblo
  • Cara Romero (Chemehuevi)
  • Diego Romero (Cochiti Pueblo)
  • Mateo Romero (Cochiti Pueblo)
  • Sarah Sense (Chitimacha-Choctaw)
  • Ryan Singer (Navajo)
  • Werewulf Micah Wesley (Kiowa-Muscogee Creek)
For more information, visit Rainmaker Art Gallery, online or at: 123 Coldharbour Road, Redland Bristol, BS6 7SN. Map.
  • Boyle, John and Sherry Farrell Racette. Rielisms. Winnipeg, MB: Winnipeg Art Gallery, 2001.

04 June 2012

Five Civilized Tribes Museum 2012 Competitive Art Show

Five Civilized Tribes Museum, Muskogee, Oklahoma. Wikimedia Commons.
Another competitive art show is coming up in Indian Country: the Five Civilized Tribes Competitive Art Show in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Their deadline for entries is June 22nd. It is free to enter, and the show is open to artists from federally- and state-recognized Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee Creek, and Seminole tribes.

The eligible federally recognized tribes are: Alabama-Coushatta Tribes of Texas, Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town, Cherokee Nation, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians of North Carolina, Chickasaw Nation, Jena Band of Choctaw Indians, Kialegee Tribal Town, Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida, Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Muscogee Creek Nation, Poarch Band of Creek Indians of Alabama, Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, Seminole Tribe of Florida, Thlopthlocco Tribal Town, and United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma.

Artists can enter up to three pieces in the categories of painting, graphics, minaitures (art image must be 4"x4" or smaller), and sculpture. Information about the show will be posted on the museum's website.

You can download a copy of their entry form here.
Their main webpage is at

Five Civilized Tribes Museum, 1101 Honor Heights DriveMuskogee, OK 74401
Phone (918) 683-1701 • fax (918) 683-3070 •  email:

23 May 2012

Moundbuilders art show, May 25-June 3

Year of the Dragon 2012, monotype, Linda Lomahaftewa
Santa Fe, NM — Moundbuilders: Exploring the Ancient Southeastern Woodlands, a two-person art exhibit inspired by the journey artists Linda Lomahaftewa (Choctaw-Hopi) and America Meredith (Cherokee Nation) took through the Deep South to explore ancient Native American mound sites, opens with a reception on Friday, May 25, from 6 to 9 p.m. On display will be prints, paintings, photography and mixed media works inspired by the sites, smells and scenery observed on their trip. The exhibit takes place at Ahalenia Studios, known for its edgy, fun and important art exhibits, at 2889 Trades West, Unit E, off of Siler Road (note: street parking only). This event is free and open to the public. 

Thanks to the online funding platform Kickstarter, Lomahaftewa and Meredith took a two-week trip in 2011 to visit 15 mounds and other archaeological sites in the southeast, from Spiro Mounds in Oklahoma and to Echota Mounds in Georgia. Both artists were able to visit the Mother Mounds of their respective tribes: NanihWaiya, origin of the Choctaws, in Mississippi and Kituwah, mother mound of the Cherokee, in North Carolina.

Lomahaftewa, an instructor at the Institute of American Indian Arts and artist who has exhibited internationally, says, “It was the trip of a lifetime.” Painter, printmaker and arts educator Meredith concurs, but adds, “It was great to learn how contemporary tribal people maintain such a vibrant and living relationships to these mounds.”   

Mounds are colossal earthworks built by hand by Native Americans prior to European contact. They flourished during the Mississippian Era, a time period from 800 to 1400 AD characterized by city-building, hierarchal governments, intensive maize agriculture and a unique iconography that spanned from Oklahoma to Florida. Several of the sites Lomahaftewa and Meredith visited, such as the Poverty Point, date back much further. Poverty Point in Louisiana is a planned community marked by elaborate earthworks dating back to 1650 and 700 BC and predating agriculture.

Moundbuilders: Exploring the Ancient Southeastern Woodlands will be open to the public from 1 to 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 26, Sunday, May 27, Saturday, June 2 and Sunday, June 3. From May 28 through June 1 the show will be open by appointment only, which can be arranged by sending an email to

For more information on the exhibit, including a blog from the journey, visit  

30 April 2012

Philip Georg Friedrich von Reck: 18th Century German Artist in Georgia

"Ein Indianischer Kriegs Tanz" (An Indian War Dance), von Reck
 With the upheavals of disease, warfare, and relocation from the 16th through 19th centuries, much of our own history of our ancestors is lost to us. Spanish expeditions, following by waves of colonizers from other European Nations, brought diseases, such as smallpox and influenza, which are thought to have killed 90% of the indigenous population of the Americas. In the Southeastern Woodlands, the deerskin trade radically altered local economies and life ways, and wars were waged from the 18th century up until the forced relocations of the 1830s.

What was life like back in the early 18th century? How did people dress? What were their art forms? Fortunately some few Europeans came to the southeast not to plunder or destroy, but to learn and share. One such individual is Philip Georg Friedrich von Reck.

Von Reck lived from 1710 to 1798. He first traveled to Georgia in 1734, accompanying a group of Lutheran Salzburgers who established a settlement called Ebenezer (Hvidt 12-13).  In 1736, at the age 25, von Reck made his second ocean voyage to Georgia (Hvidt 7), Ebenezer was moved in 1736 to New Ebenezer (Runyon and Davis).

The new settlement was close to communities of Lower Muscogee Creeks and Yuchis, who had moved to Georgia from their ancestral homelands in eastern Tennessee. Von Reck regularly visited with Creeks and Yuchis and recording them in his travel diary, which he illustrated with 50 drawings and watercolor sketches (Hvidt 7). His writings were published back in the 18th century but his drawings remained unknown until they were rediscovered in 1977 at the Royal Library in Copenhagen (NHC).

Many of von Reck’s sketches were botanical or zoological specimens, accompanied by terms in Yuchi, Mvskoke, German, and sometimes French. His portraits of Yuchis and Creeks provide a window into their world prior to the American Revolution, when the deerskin trade with English flourished.

Particularly interesting are the images and descriptions of personal attire. He writes, “The Indians are usually five to six feet tall, upright, with good feet, robust bones, yet delicate, fine, and longish fingers, and perfect breasts” (45). He describes men cut their hair short, except for one long scalp lock. Women wore long hair, tied with red ribbons (45). Men painted their faces and chests, with red and blue pigment during ceremonial occasions, and red and black during warfare (45-6). Women only painted or tattooed their arms and chest (45). Indians wore earrings or feathers in their ears and rings with a bead through their nasal septa (45).

Ein Georgianischer Indianer under Indianerinn in ihrer Natürl. Kleidung shows a dual portrait of a man wearing a blue loincloth, holding a fletched arrow and stylized bow. The man has a “ring and pearl” in his septum piercing and wears small tuft of hair pointing upward. The woman has arrows and four-pointed shaped tattooed up her arm and a particular line tattooed on her ribcage. She wears a “coral” necklace. Her hair is parted in the middle and tied in a bun with a thin, red ribbon. She wears a knee-length blue skirt and holds a buffalo horn ladle (111).

Kipahalgwa, a Yuchi war leader, is painted in an extremely expressive portrait, down to the furrowed brow of the sitting model. The chief has a short topknot and a long flowing loose scalp lock. Both ears are adorned with soft, white feathers and large pearl earrings. His face is painted black on his chin and forehead with red around his nose, cheeks, eyes, and brow. A yellow zigzag runs across the top of his forehead. He is tattooed with two sets of parallel lines, one running vertically down his throat and meeting the second that runs horizontally from shoulder-to-shoulder. From these come black parallel rays, tapering off to a tip. He wears a white shirt, presumably of European manufacture, plain moccasins, and red deer hide legging with two white parallel lines running down each side and fringe.  At his ankles the leggings are cinched with thin garters (115).

Another portrait shows Senkaitschi and his wife, The Indian King and Queen of the Yuchis. The “queen” faces away from the viewer, wrapped in a woolen, trade blanket over her blue skirt. Her shoulder length hair hangs loose.  Senkaitschi has elaborate tattoos—wavy, horizontal lines on his forehead, complex lines on his cheeks, a collar, and parallel vertical rays on his chest, joined at the top, with alternating rays joined in the middle by rectangular shapes. The Yuchi chief wears blue leggings, with garters at his knees and ankles, moccasins with upright flaps, a short, red loincloth with two blue lines, and a buffalo robe (128).

A most intriguing image is Indianer welche auf die Jagd geben or Indians Going A-Hunting, which features three differently attired men. One man wears a white trade blanket with red trim, most likely a horse cloth traded at Charles Town for two deer hides. Another wears a unique hunting jacket, possibly influenced by European designs. The jacket is tailored with sleeves and large cuffs. It’s difficult to determine if the various lines on the jacket are from printed cloth or painted buckskin, but it is painted in a similar style to one man’s “painted leather blanket.” Painted hide robes are commons throughout the Plains, but this is the only example I’ve seen of a painted Southeastern Woodland hide robe. Thick red lines separate spaces filled by thinner lines and various red geometric shapes. The size of the robe suggests it could be elk or buffalo; however, multiple deer hides could have been sewn together. Two of the men have overstuffed supply packed carried over their shoulders by tumplines. The man with the hunting jacket carries a fur shot pouch with a thin shoulder strap.

Of the Yuchis, von Reck writes, “… nothing suits them better than hunting, fishing, swimming and waging war, for which they prepare from childhood with the most extreme diligence. And they possess such skill in shooting and in tricking the wild animals that they never fail their mark. They do not work, nor do they cultivate their fields, which, because of their noble blood, they consider slavish. And they consider it even more of a disgrace to work for wages… “ (Hvidt 40).

“The Creek nation is ruled by various kings who must win this preference or title through an especially brave deed,” von Reck writes of the Muscogee Creeks. “Otherwise the king is not distinguished from his subjects… In their councils the king presents the matter to the old, the old people present it to the young and then it is carried out. … If one is not equal to his office, they elect another” (Hvidt 41).

Von Reck describes the generosity of the local tribes. Tomochichi, a Yamacraw leader, heard how English colonists were ill and going hungry, so he sent a hunting party to bring game–personally seeing that enough meat was distributed to the poor and sick (41). “They love one another very much and give up their lives for each other. They pay close attention to people’s behaviour and whoever is selfish is shunned by them. … No one has more than a blanket, a pot, a hut and a musket. If he has two of anything, he gladly gives one to him who needs it more” (42).

While he doesn’t lavish much praise on the artistic accomplishments of the local Indians, von Reck does write, “They can copy out any drawings by pricking in wood. … The women weave baskets, mats, &c. of cane and weave with the fingers a kind of tapestry of silk grass and palmetto leaves, which is very strong and thick” (48). Silk grass is a common term for several plants, from milkweed to yucca, as well as plants of the genus Pityopsis— especially Pityopsis graminifolia or narrowleaf silkgrasswho are native to the southeastern United States (USDA).

“As strange and wild as the Indians seem superficially” to Europeans, von Reck writes, “yet when one associates with them, one finds they are very polite, of natural good understanding, sensible, brief in their conversation and agile in quick in their behavior” (46).

Ultimately, von Reck did not stay long in the Americas. He was caught between in fighting between Johann Martin Bolzius, the community’s pastor, and John Vat, the storekeeper (20). With enemies on all sides and reoccurring illnesses, Philip Georg Friedrich von Reck took a long route home back to Germany in 1736 (25). As Kristian Hvidt writes, “Like Voltaire’s fictitious hero in Candide, … von Reck had travelled through the continents, enduring all sorts of sufferings inflicted by nature and man, and concluded that the best thing would be to state at home cultivate his own garden” (24).

Von Reck’s sketchbook is online at the Center for Manuscripts & Rare Books at the Det Kongelige Bibliotek in Copenhagen, Denmark.
  • Hvidt, Kristian, ed. Von Reck’s Voyage: Drawings and Journal of Philip Georg Friedrich von Reck. Savannah, GA: Beehive Press, 1980.
  • Runyon, Shane A. and Robert Scott Davis, Jr. “Ebenezer.” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 18 March 2005. Web.
  • “Toolbox Library: 3. Native Americans.”  National Humanities Center. 2011. Web.
  • USDA. “Plants Profile: County Distribution: Pityopsis graminifolia (Michx.) Nutt.”  Natural Resources Conservation Service. Web.

10 April 2012

Oldest Known Rock Art in the Americas Discovered in Brazil

Rough sketch of "Little Horny Man"
Motorhead’s advice to “Rock out with your cock out” takes on new meaning in light of a recent archaeological discovery. Dubbed “The Little Horny Man,” a petroglyph of a stick man with an outsized phallus is the oldest reliably dated rock art in the Americas. Found in Lapa do Santo, a rock shelter in Brazil, the petroglyph dates between 12,000 and 9,000 years ago (Chol).

Lapa do Santo is located in the state of Minas Gerais, in central-eastern Brazil. Not far away is Lapa Vermelha, where Luzia, the oldest known human remains in the Americas was found. She lived 11,500 years ago (Smith).

Lapa do Santo is a large, limestone rock shelter. Almost at the end of a nine-year-excavation, archaeologists unearthed the petroglyph after digging 13 feet below the cave's surface (Chol).

The Little Horny Man stands twelve inches tall and eight inches wide. Walter Alves Neves, an archaeologist and biological anthropologist at the University of São Paulo believes the image is connected to a fertility rite (Chol). The stick figure is highly abstracted and features a “C”-shaped head and tri-digits, that is, both hands only have three fingers represented (Koebler). The less defined legs and feet appear to be in a squatting position.

The dates of the petroglyph were determined by carbon dating the sediment that covered it (Chol). Petroglyphs are images pecked into a rock surface, as opposed to pictographs that are painted upon the surface. This petroglyph is wildly different from other ancient rock art found in Brazil and Argentina. The diversity in art occurs at such an early date making the out-dated Clovis model of migration highly unlikely (Koebler).
  • Chol, Charles. “'Little Horny Man': Rock Carving of Giant Phallus Discovered.” Live Science. 22 February 2012. Web.
  • Koebler, Justin. “Ancient Brazilian Carving Believed to Be Among World's Oldest.” US News and World Report. 22 Feb 2012. Web.
  • Smith, Chuck R. “Who Was First? Untangling America’s Prehistoric Roots”. Cabrillo College. 18 Feb 2000. Web.

09 March 2012

Intertribal Competitive Shows Coming Up

The two major annual, competitive art shows are coming up. Both are great opportunities for emerging Native artists to showcase their work and are free to enter.

The 41st Annual Trail of Tears Art Show takes place at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Oklahoma. This year the Chickasaw Nation is the primary sponsor of the show. It's open to all members of any federally recognized tribe, pueblo, or Alaskan village, over the age of 18. Categories are painting, graphics, sculpture, pottery, basketry, and jewelry. Digital images of entries should be emailed to Mickel-yantz (at) (ignore what the rules pdf says; the e-mails don't work anymore). Accepted entries will be posted on March 21. The show runs from April 8, 2012 to May 8, 2012.

A pdf entry form and rules can be downloaded here.

The 44th Annual Red Cloud Indian Art Show takes place at the Red Cloud Heritage Center and Museum in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. This show is open to all members of US federally recognized tribes, as well as Native Hawaiians and First Nations and Inuit of Canada. Divisions are painting, drawing, graphics, photography/computer generated art, mixed media, three dimensional, and contemporary or traditional cultural items, such as beadwork, quillwork, musical instruments, textiles, and clothing. An email or letter stating intention to enter that show must arrived by May 1, then entries must be delivered by May 11. The show runs from June 3 through August 12, 2012.

An entry form and rules can be downloaded here.

There's actually a third, annual intertribal show. The Cherokee National Holiday Show, sponsored by the Cherokee Nation, in Tahlequah, Oklahoma over Labor Day weekend is actually open to all US federally recognized tribes; however, I'm not sure they are equipped to receive and ship artwork out of the region. Check this website closer to the date for more information.

06 March 2012

54th Annual Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market

Singers at the Fair modeling awesome regalia
The weather for this year’s Heard Fair was perfect. Cool and calm, which set the tone for the weekend. Comparisons to SWAIA’s Indian Market are inescapable, and the Heard is much more relaxed, genteel affair, being affiliated with and taking place on the grounds of the Heard Museum. Due to the accessibility of Phoenix, being a major hub for air travel, the Heard draws proportionally more artists from farther regions, especially Alaska, than Indian Market, which has a specific focus on southwestern/ Oasisamerican tribes. I wonder, though, how many non-artist visitors travel into town for the weekend or if the main draw is from residents of the Phoenix metropolitan area?

For some reason I have a strong desire to understand how the fair, the museum, and the Phoenix art scene tick, since it’s clearly very different than New Mexico or Oklahoma. Native Peoples Magazine and Southwestern Art Collector cover the fair. The Arizona Republic ran a preview in February saying that 20,000 visitors attend the fair, garnering $200,000 in proceeds, which makes the fair the Heard Museum Guild’s largest annual fundraiser. The article confirms that the number of artists, expanded last year, is still 700. Perhaps the expansion was made for financial reasons for the Heard Guild, but the number of artists seems to overwhelm the space, and certainly the facilities.
Best of Show: Techno Kid on the Run

The Heard does a fantastic job getting through own information out through the Heard Guild’s and the Heard Museum’s websites museum store’s and Berlin Gallery blogs, twitter, and other social media. I found out who the Grand Prize winner was when my friend from Tahlequah posted it on Facebook.

Stetson Honyumptewa (Hopi) won Best of Show with his action-packed, intricate, and humorous carving, “Techno Kid on the Run,” which, to the best of my limited understanding on the subject, features Wiharu, the white-faced ogre, attacking a misbehaving youth.

Classification winners include Samuel LaFountain (Diné/Ojibwe, from New Mexico) for Jewelry and Lapidary; Anita Fields (Osage, from Oklahoma) for Pottery; Micah Wesley (Kiowa/Muscogee Creek, from Oklahoma) for Paintings, Drawings, Graphics, Photography; Stetson Hunyumptewa (Hopi, from Arizona) for Wood Carvings; Ryan Benally (Diné, from
Pima-Maricopa Roy Manuel's kiaha, burden basket, in action
New Mexico, born in Arizona) for Sculpture; Catherine Blackhorse (Seminole, from Washington) for Textiles, Weavings, Clothing; Dyanni Hamilton-Youngbird (Diné) for Diverse Art Forms; and Jeremy Frey (Passamaquoddy, from Maine) for Baskets. Each category had three judges, except Wooden Carvings and Sculpture, which were combined, for a total of 21 judges. I’ve never heard an estimate of how many of the 700 artists enter the competition.

Entries must be delivered by 5pm on Thursday and can no longer be mailed in due to widespread damage to works in shipping (or so goes the word on the street). Judging takes place that evening. The Heard doesn’t have a ceremony to announce the winners, but by the time the dinner and Best of Show reception, which are quite wonderful, takes place, visitors are treated to a printing listing of the winners and brief biographies of the judges.

Good news about the economy flooded the airwaves in days leading up to the fair. This, like all other markets, is a jeweler’s market. I would love to see an overview of who was buying what. Some new artists did extraordinarily well. Many established artists whose work I have the utmost respect for sold nothing all weekend. Many veteran artists didn’t attend due to the economy, and several others said they couldn’t return next year. Even if you want to attend, the expenses are steep and it’s just not feasible, even if the event is enjoyable. Since I quizzed so many friends about how their market went, I made a chart to show the ups and downs of my own sales at the Heard.

The Heard used to permit artists to sell two reproductions in their booths but ceased. Unfortunately many fairgoers can’t afford major original works. The prints and note cards were the artist’s gas money. While a booth entirely of reproductions isn’t desirable, allowing two reproductions would not lower the quality of the market; and certainly not as much placing as a kettle corn booth across from an art booth.

The courtyard at times was swarmed, as was the museum store and bookstore. Several authors were honored at the event. A variety of musicians and dancers performed, including Navajo flautist R. Carlos Nakai. In the Berlin Gallery, Sarah Sense (Chitimacha-Choctaw) signed copies of her newly published catalog, Weaving the Americas, which documents artists she interview on her travels through North and South America.

People from the Heard Guild do definitely take care of their artists. The dinner reception was, as always, really wonderful, as was Native Peoples party. Thanks so much to Jose and Frances for their annual parties. And thanks to my two major artist collectors who like to fly under the radar! Maybe next year I’ll finish up my painting before the weekend and actually get to see some of the art shows around town again.

07 February 2012

Narcissa Chisholm Owen: The Mother of Cherokee Painting?

Narcissa Owen, 1907, WikiMedia Commons
If Cecil Dick (1915–1992) is the “father of Cherokee painting,” then would a Cherokee woman born 84 years before him be the “mother of Cherokee painting”? Narcissa Chisholm Owen (1831-1911) won awards for her naturalistic oil painting, and several of her works survive in museum collections today.

Narcissa was born on October 3, 1831 at Webber Falls, Indian Territory (Jacobson and d’Ucel 265). Her father, Thomas Chisholm, was a chief of the Old Settlers, the Cherokees who migrated west prior to the 1838 forced removal known as the Trail of Tears.

She gave an extremely colorful version of her family tree, describing Thomas Chisholm as the “last hereditary head of the seven great clans that comprise the Cherokee Nation,” giving his Cherokee name as “Heil-Steky-Yearle” or “Little-Rusty-Knife.” She also described her ancestor and namesake as “Queen” Quatsis (NYT 1911), completely bypassing and overshadowing others’ claims of Cherokee Princess ancestors. Emmet Starr writes that Thomas Chisholm, who married Malinda Wharton, was elected Third Chief of the Western Cherokees on 16 July 1834, under the Principal Chief John Jolly (Starr 474). The Owen family was predominantly of Scots-Irish descent; however, her father apparently belonged to the ᎠᏂᎩᎶᎯ, Anigilohi, or Longhair Clan (NYT).

Narcissa majored in music and art at the College of Evansville in Indiana (265). In 1853, she married Robert Owen, a European-American railroad tycoon, and the couple eventually moved to Lynchburg, Virginia (265). The Civil War and aftermath left the family in poverty. Robert died in 1873, so Narcissa taught music to support herself and her two sons (265).

In 1880, Narcissa moved back to Indian Territory, with Robert Latham “Oconostota” Owen, Jr., who served as one of Oklahoma’s first US senators. Narcissa Owen taught music at the Cherokee Female Seminary, the first institution of higher learning for women west of the Mississippi.

At the age of 62, Narcissa devoted herself seriously to painting (NYT). “In oil painting and miniatures I have of late years found great interest,” she told the New York Times reporter. "I also sometimes indulge in sketching in watercolors as an agreeable pastime."

Both Narcissa’s father and grandfather had been friends with Thomas Jefferson (Jacobson and d’Ucel 265). Her oil painting, Thomas Jefferson and His Descendants, won a medal at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, more commonly known as the St. Louis Exposition, in 1904. An additional painting won a diploma (NYT). Her three painting and several of her tapestries “were admired by the many thousands who visited the Territory pavilion” (US 270).

Thomas Jefferson and His Descendants is now part of the Herman Collection of the University of Virginia Art Museum. The medal belongs to the Oklahoma Historical Society, who also owns her 1896 self-portrait and a copy she made of Charles Bird King’s portrait of Sequoyah (Jacobson and d’Ucel 266).

In 1907, Owen published the book, A Cherokee Woman's America: Memoirs of Narcissa Owen, which has recently been republished in 2005 in a version edited by Karen L. Kilcup. Owen died on July 16, 1911 in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Both her self-portrait and the surviving Thomas Jefferson painting are technically adept and rooted in realism. Attention is lavished on details such as hair, faces, furniture, eyeglasses, and jewelry. The backgrounds and textiles are soft and muted, showcasing the warm, glowing flesh tones of the subjects. Even with such a small corpus of surviving known works, Owen’s pride in her Cherokee heritage is evident in her portrait of Sequoyah, the inventor of the Cherokee syllabary.

With her academic American art education and embrace of contemporary easel art techniques, Owen joins the ranks of Angel De Cora (Hochunk) and Edmonia Lewis (Ojibwe). Although these 19th century indigenous women artists had an education based on European-American perspectives, they used Native subject matter in their works, albeit not exclusively. Most significantly they exhibited their art in the mainstream art arena and kept abreast of new developments of the art world.
  • Jacobson, Oscar B. and Jeanne d’Ucel. “Art in Oklahoma.” Chronicles of Oklahoma. 32.3 (1954) : 263-277. Web.
  • United States, Louisiana Purchase Exposition Commission. Final Report of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Commission, 1906. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1906.
  • “Mother of U.S. Senator an Indian Queen; Mrs. Narcissa Owen, Daughter of the Last Chief of the Seven Great Cherokee Clans, Is a Charming Old Lady of Distinction Whose Talent in Art Has Won Recognition.” New York Times. 22 Jan 1911. Web.
  • Starr, Emmet. History of the Cherokee Indians and Their Legends and Folk Lore. Oklahoma City, OK: The Warden Company, 1921. Web.
Do you know what the difference between the whites and the Indians in the matter of dress? No? Well, a white man will work himself to death to make his wife look pretty, while the Indian woman will do the same thing, and in addition nearly put her eyes out, doing beadwork to make her husband outshine all the other fellows.  – Narcissa Owen, 1911 (NYT)

Thanks so much to Jeff Briley, the deputy director of the Oklahoma History Center, for taking the time to let me see the 1896 self-portrait in person! I was able to photograph some interesting details such as the plaque, her signature, and an inscription on the back: "For my baby (R. L. Owen, Jr.)/N.O."

Sequoyah, Narcissa Owen after Charles Bird King
Her medal from the Louisiana Purchase Exposition can no longer be located; however, her copy of King's Sequoyah portrait hangs in a conference room on the first floor of the Oklahoma Judicial Center at 2100 N. Lincoln Boulevard, Oklahoma City. The room was in use when I visited, so I could only take a photo through the door.

The Oklahoma History center has blog worth checking out: Found in Collections.