Thursday, April 30, 2020

Native Women artists at the Renwick and the Frist

This is a photograph of the outside poster of the exhibition by Native Women the Renwick Washington, D.C.
Marie Watt, Seneca Nation of Indians, Blanket Stories: Three Sisters, Four Pelts, Sky Woman, Cousin Rose, and All My Relations, 2007, Seattle Art Museum, General Acquisition Fund, in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum,
To the left is Hummingbird Copper Dress, 1989 by Dorothy Grant (Haida) with Robert Davidson (Haida/Tlingit) at the Renwick Gallery/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Marie Watt, Seneca Nation of Indians, Blanket Stories: Three Sisters, Four Pelts, Sky Woman, Cousin Rose, and All My Relations, 2007, Seattle Art Museum, General Acquisition Fund, in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum and, to the right, Dorothy Grant (Haida) with Robert Davidson (Haida/Tlingit), Hummingbird Copper Dress, 1989, wool, Denver Art Museum Collection: Native Arts acquisition fund, 2010 at the Renwick Gallery/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Marie Watt, Seneca Nation of Indians, Blanket Stories: Three Sisters, Four Pelts, Sky Woman, Cousin Rose, and All My Relations, 2007, Seattle Art Museum, General Acquisition Fund,in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, at the Frist Art Museum/Photo by Patricia Leslie  
Navajo artist, Second phase chief blanket, c. 1880, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Gift of Elissa and Paul Cahn, These blankets are valued today about as much as they were by the Navajo nation in the late 19th centuryl. They were often worn by chiefs and their wives/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Jamie Okuma (Luiseño/Shoshone-Bannock), Adaptation II, 2012, shoes designed by Christian Louboutin, leather, glass beads, porcupine quills, sterling silver cones, brass sequins, chicken feathers, cloth, deer rawhide, and buckskin, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Bequest of Virginia Doneghy

Label copy at the Renwick (this photo taken at the Frist) said Jamie Okuma began making "extravagant attire in which to attend powwows" leading to her " successful career creating wearable art." Her heels are her "way of reimaging Native couture." She planned a career in the fashion industry but her success as a beadworker took her in a different direction
/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Apsáalooke (Crow) artist, Dress, ca. 1930, cotton, bead, bone, skin, wool, and colorant, Denver Art Museum Collection: The L. D. and Ruth Bax Collection,

From the label copy: "Elk-tooth dresses like this one are important symbols of prestige for Apsáalooke women. Because they can have as many as 500 elk teeth meticulously sewn into the bodice, and because the maker only uses the two canine teeth of the bull elk, a dress like this reflects not only a woman’s sewing skills, but, as importantly, her male family members’ hunting prowess. Today, few elk-tooth dresses are made entirely from real teeth—there are acceptable commercial substitutions—but the dress endures as an object of significance and cultural pride."/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Detail of Jolene Richard, Tuscarora, b. 1956 ...the sky is darkening ..., 2018, courtesy of the artist with special thanks to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Tuscarora women made beadwork of passenger pigeons  which were hunted to extinction by1902, according to the label copy. Beadwork by Tuscarora women helped them survive when they were forced to leave their homes in North Carolina in the early 18th century
/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Jolene Richard, Tuscarora, b. 1956 ...the sky is darkening ..., 2018, courtesy of the artist with special thanks to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Apsaalooke (Crow), Infant Boy's Coat, c. 1890, buckskin, cloth, glass beads, sinew, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, pictured at the Renwick with Hide Cradleboard, c. 1890 by a Kiowa artist, attributed to Tahdo Ahtone, 1879-1961, Denver Museum of Nature and Science. By riding in the cradleboard upright, the child could absorb more of her language and culture/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Apsaalooke (Crow), Infant Boy's Coat, c. 1890, buckskin, cloth, glass beads, sinew, Denver Museum of Nature and Science. At the Frist/Photo by Patricia Leslie
 Hide Cradleboard, c. 1890 by a Kiowa artist, attributed to Tahdo Ahtone, 1879-1961, Denver Museum of Nature and the Frist/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Keri Ataumbi (Kiowa/Comanche) and Jamie Okuma (Luiseño/Shoshone-Bannock), Adornment: Iconic Perceptions, 2014, antique glass, 24-karat electroplated beads, buckskin, 18-karat yellow gold, sterling silver, wampum shell, freshwater pearls, rose and brilliant-cut diamonds and diamond beads, diamond briolettes, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Gift of funds from The Duncan and Nivin MacMillan Foundation/Photo by Patricia Leslie

The artists pay tribute to Pocahontas, drawing inspiration from 17th century engravings by Simon van de Passe and Thomas Sully’s classic 1852 painting,
Anita Fields, Osage, b. 1951, with her coat entitled It's In Our DNA, It's Who We Are, 2018, Minneapolis Institute of Art. At the Renwick Gallery, Feb. 20, 2020.  Printed inside the coat is the Treaty of 1808 when the Osage Indians ceded almost 2.5 million acres including the state of Arkansas and almost all of Missouri to the U.S. government for cash/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Anita Fields, Osage, b. 1951, It's In Our DNA, It's Who We Are, 2018, Minneapolis Institute of Art, at the Frist Art Museum/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Joan Hill (Muskogee Creek and Cherokee), Women’s Voices at the Council, 1990, acrylic on canvas, Gift of the artist on behalf of the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women, 1990, Oklahoma State Art Collection, courtesy of the Oklahoma Arts Council.

From the label copy: "Women’s Voices at the Council, part of a series that Joan Hill began in 1971 during the Vietnam War (1965–75), depicts multiple generations of Native women and the power they hold to decide between war and peace. Hill focuses attention on essential elements of women’s regalia including turtle shell leggings, and she presents Muskogee/Cherokee cultural aesthetics, symbols, and meanings. She juxtaposes the white background, a Cherokee symbol of peace, with a red disk, possibly symbolizing a threat of war."

This was my second favorite of the show. The contrasts, the colors, the mixture of generations, their positions, the silhouettes, and the solemnity of the time. While the women discuss, the men (to the left) prepare to battle. Leave it to the women to bring peace!

Four of the artists at the Renwick Gallery, Feb. 20, 2020. In the white shirt is Anita Fields and to her left is Kelly Church/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Kelly Church (Ottawa/Pottawatomi) with her Sustaining Traditions—Digital Memories, 2018, at the Renwick, Feb. 20, 2020. Black ash, sweetgrass, Rit dye, copper, vial EAB, and flash drive with black ash teachings
/Photo by Patricia Leslie

According to the label copy: "The green in this basket represents the emerald ash borer. This beautiful insect has destroyed ash trees, essential to making ash baskets, throughout the Upper Midwest. Placed within this basket, which is shaped like a Fabergé egg is a flash drive containing what Kelly Church describes as 'all the teachings of the past, all of the things happening today, and all of the things we need to do in the future to sustain this tradition [basket weaving].'”
 The Frist Art Museum, Dec. 23, 2019/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Marguerite Vincent Lawinonkie Wendat (Huron), Moccasins, 1838/1847-1854, Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, NY, Gift of Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Lou-ann Neel, b. 1963, Childhood, 2013. According to the label, these are miniature photographs of the artist and 3,000 other children who were removed from their Native homes and sent to residential schools where they were forced to assimilate into Euro-American culture. All together, the images comprise the artist's nephew, Daniel (below) in regalia for his naming ceremony.  Ms. Neel's work was exhibited at the Frist only.
Lou-ann Neel, b. 1963, Childhood, 2013. The artist's nephew, Daniel.  (See description above.)
Lou-ann Neel, b. 1963, Childhood, 2013, Frist/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Dana Claxton, b. 1959, Buffalo Bone China, 1997, video and mixed media, collection of the MacKenzie Art Gallery. In the 1860s the U.S. government began killing 30 million buffalo to drive Natives onto reservations.  It took 30 years to kill almost 30 million buffalo, leaving only 493. Europeans used their bones to make fine china. The video features the artist smashing buffalo bone china, paying tribute to the power of the buffalo and the endurance of the Natives.  In the center are pieces of the broken white china. At the Frist only/Photo by Patricia Leslie
 See description above/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Jennie Ross Cobb, Cherokee, 1881-1959, Cherokee Female Seminary Graduating Class, 1902, courtesy of the Oklahoma Historical Society. Ms. Cobb was the first known Native American woman photographer in the U.S. Her pictures contrast with the stereotypes most other photographers made of Native American women, according to the label copy.  Although the location of the seminary was not given, I believe it is the "centerpiece of Northeastern State University, located in Tahlequah, Oklahoma," as identified by Wikipedia. The white dots in the photo of the photo are reflections of overhanging lights at the Frist/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Slavey (Dene), Dog blanket, c. 1878-1900, McCord Stewart Museum. Used for warmth and "announcement" by sled drivers of teams' arrival to deliver mail, news, and supplies. Indigenous are reviving these colorful, jingle-jangle blankets/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Anishinaabe, Jingle dress and headband, c. 1900, Cass County Historical Society, Cass County Museum. Used as "healing dresses" today and yesteryear/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Osage artists, ribbon blanket (left), c. 1950 and child's ribbon-work blanket, c. 1915 which belong to Anita Fields (the blanket on the left) and Julia Karen Lookout, both of the Osage Nation. See the backs below.  At the Frist/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The backs of the children's blankets (seen above) with Anita Fields's It's In Our DNA, It's Who We Are, 2018, at the Frist/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Zoe Urness, Tlingit, b. 1984, December 5, 2016, No Spiritual Surrender, 2016, courtesy of the artist. Near a campsite at Standing Rock Reservation in the Dakotas. Thousands from around the world gathered  to protest the Dakota Pipeline designed to carry oil but a threat to lives, damaging water supplies. Although the temperature that day "had hit forty below," the artist says on the label, "I had the camera under my armpit to keep the batteries warm.  I watched this gathering of veterans of military service, from all over the nation, approaching." She moved quickly to take "a one-arm shot." 

Rather than a photograph, this looks like a still from a horror movie. The reds, the blacks, the greys and whites combine with deliver a powerful message. My Number One Favorite in the show. It is a knockout, summoning up all the power of the protestors who march towards the viewer and summon: "Join us! We shall overcome!" At the Frist.

I was lucky enough to be able to see this intriguing and wide-ranging exhibition,
the first major museum exhibition devoted to art by Native Women in two cities, in Nashville at the Frist Art Museum at Christmas, and in Washington at the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery in February before coronavirus closed the show early.

Most of the pieces shown here were displayed at both museums, but the larger galleries at the Frist (it included 115 pieces; the Renwick, 82) permitted more displays of textiles, baskets, beadwork, pottery, painting, sculpture, video, apparel, and installation art with a broader visual experience for some.

Works by artists from the U.S. and Canada, from ancient times to present day, were chosen by a curatorial team led by Jill Ahlberg Yohe from the Minneapolis Institute of Art (the organizing institution) and Teri Greeves, a Kowa artist and scholar.

They worked closely with an Exhibition Advisory Board of 20 Native women skilled in mixed media who provided guidance for the show, titled Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists. It was "a radical shift in curatorial methodology," remarked Ms. Ahlberg at the Washington opening.

It is divided by three themes:  legacy, relationships, and power which together present "the unique heritage and culture of various Indian tribes and communities."

Visitors from toddlers on up were fascinated by the extraordinary presentation and differences of what their heritage means to these Native Women. 

Smithsonian American Art Museum Director Stephanie Stebich at the opening of Hearts Of Our People at the Renwick Gallery, Feb. 20, 2020/Photo by Patricia Leslie

At the February opening in Washington, Smithsonian American Art Museum Director Stephanie Stebich remarked that the timing of the exhibition in Washington to fall in the centennial celebration when American women got the right to vote was not just a coincidence. 

To compare the ways the two museums assembled and displayed the art was fascinating; highly recommended whenever the chance comes along to compare the same exhibition in two different locations.

My impression that many (most?) living artists require their works to be specifically displayed, according to certain measurements and placements in galleries, was changed by this show since placements, heights, and juxtapositions varied from one place to another.

It is a shame, a shame (it bears repeating) that coronavirus will prevent many from seeing this magnificent, inspiring show. The Renwick will just have to bring it back.

Audio tours with several of the artists are found at the Renwick website. 

Most of the labels were multi-lingual with translations in the native language of the artist.
Grants from the Henry Luce Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities made the presentation possible.  

A catalog of the exhibition is available for $39.95.
What: Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists 

When:  Native Women Artists is set to close at the Renwick May 17, 2020 and likely cannot be extended since it moves to the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa for viewing June 28 – September 20, 2020, The Renwick is closed by coronavirus until July 2, 2020, according to the website. It is usually open from 10 a.m.– 5:30 p.m. every day.

Where: The Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery, 1661 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20006, at the White House 17th Street block, adjacent to Blair House.

Admission: No charge

Metro stations: Farragut North or Farragut West

For more information: (202) 633-7970 (recorded) or (202) 633-2850

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

A sad Earth Day Park in Washington, D.C.

The entrance to Earth Day Park on Independence Avenue, Washington, D.C. with a hard-to-read sign that may have been installed when dinosaurs roamed/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The entrance to Earth Day Park, Washington, D.C./Photo by Patricia Leslie

This unsightly rock, uncovered during excavation for the nearby expressway and surrounded by weeds, serves what purpose at Earth Day Park? Restrains weeds?/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Looking towards the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum, on the right, across Independence Avenue/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Bring a hacksaw to reach this bench at Earth Day Park/Photo by Patricia Leslie
A sad little bluebell matches its surroundings amidst the weeds at Earth Day Park/Photo by Patricia Leslie
If you look closely, more bluebells peek through the weeds at Earth Day Park/Photo by Patricia Leslie
What's this?  Little flowers waving in the wind in Forgotten Park/Photo by Patricia Leslie

On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, it's a sad little Earth Day Park which lies on Independence Avenue squeezed between an on-ramp to an expressway and a dull federal building which, ironically, happens to house transportation concerns, the Federal Aviation Administration.

Alone, unkempt, isolated, and uncared for are the adjectives which immediately spring to mind when visiting the park, not only during coronavirus, but all the time.  

It's abandoned. 

Who takes care of it?

The little park, dedicated by U.S. Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary on the 25th anniversary of Earth Day in 1995, is so unimportant it even lacks a page in Wikipedia, only the second time I've found a subject missing from its pages.*  

Think of that, not even important enough to warrant a Wikipedia page!  Now, this is a sad, little park. 

The link above says the park was built by the Department of Energy, an absent landlord for sure, which, in a March, 2010 quarterly report (page 101) still called the park its own.

One cannot blame coronavirus and the closure of the federal government for the forgotten park's appearance since it always looks like this, overgrown and ignored. 

Why not blame the Department of Energy under the Trump administration which despises everything environmental?

I say now is the time for the U.S. National Park Service to take over Earth Day Park and restore it to its original lustre and grandeur for obviously, the U.S. Department of Energy doesn't give a damn. 

*The first was "posy holders," and no, "nosegays" do not count.


Thursday, April 9, 2020

Book review: Vladimir Nabokov's interviews and more

For any Vladimir Nabokov fan, this is "must read."

Brian Boyd, assisted by Anastasia Tolstoy, has chronologically assembled Mr. Nabokov's "Uncollected Essays, Reviews, Interviews, and Letters to the Editor" which span 56 years and include the last interviews conducted the year Nabokov died (1899-1977).

His LTEs presented here are ones he wrote when annoyed by a reviewer's mistakes.

About two-thirds of the book are the interviews which fascinated me more than the essays which, I must confess, most of them I skipped (and the references to and mentions of lepidopterology since a lepidopterist like Mr. Nabokov, I am not.) (Mr. Boyd has written a separate book entitled Nabokov's Butterflies.)

Demands for interviews with Nabokov "exploded" after the publication of Lolita (1955) which Nabokov said in numerous interviews was based on total fiction and originated with a chimpanzee. (Source? "Wet market"? I had to ask.) (Editor Boyd claims to have omitted duplicate questions posed by interviewers but this question appears over and over, along with "How do you spend your day, Mr. Nabokov?" All answers, intriguing, and duplications, not annoying.)

It took months for Hollywood to convince Mr. Nabokov to write the screenplay for Lolita. He was immensely pleased with the end product. (West End Cinema screened it last year. Please request West End to show it again. The ticket agent told me the movie was moved to a larger theatre since more ticket sales were sold than expected.)

For his interviews, reporters had to submit questions in advance and Nabokov prepared answers in writing.

He claimed he was a terrible speaker and wrote on notecards while in the bath tub or standing at a lectern.

The only difference between a short story and a novel, he said, is the novel is longer and took him about a year to compose 200 pages; two weeks to write a ten-page short story (p. 409).

Nabokov has been described as the best American prose writer, and Lolita proves it.

In a 1974 interview he expressed that "climatic changes" could be more harmful to "butterfly life" than pollution (p. 429).

His favorite Russian writers were Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Chekhov, he said in a 1974 interview: "I will not discuss my contemporaries since my rule is never to speak of living writers in public" nor "living readers" of which there are some "real geniuses" and "quite a few asses." (P. 438).

In another 1974 interview, he said the writers he most admired were Edmund White, John Updike, J.D. Salinger, and "some of Truman Capote's stuff." (P. 447)

His family fled the Nazis, arriving in the U.S. in 1940. Nabokov grew to love America, especially the West (Los Angeles) and while speaking fondly of it, had many harsh words always to say about his native Russia, often expressing no desire to ever return to the land seized by the Bolsheviks and run by the Soviets at the time.

In the U.S. Nabokov
wrote and taught at various colleges (one of his students was Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.) until the late 1950s when he and his wife, Vera, whom he married in 1925, returned to Europe. They took up residency in a hotel in Switzerland, planning to return to America at some point, he said in a 1972 interview (p. 415), but "I detest planes" and boats take "a long time." 

They never made it back.

Several times the St. Petersburg native declared himself "an American writer" (p. 416), althought his first books were written in Russian.  In a 1972 interview, he noted that his books were banned in Russia (until 1986), "but copies sneak in there all the time." He and his son, Dmitri (1934 - 2012), translated Lolita into Russian.

He cared not for Sigmund Freud ("has caused much harm, and his disciples have made much money," [p. 456], calling Freud "a comic author," [p. 468]), nor did Nabokov think highly of works by F. Scott Fitzgerald ("I don't remember anything of Fitzgerald's writings," [p. 476]).

The importance of his wife, Vera, to his writing success cannot be overstated.
She may have been his "everything" but she was not a ghost writer, the couple said more than once. (She shows up often in the interviews, coaxing him to do this or that; correcting him.) Stacy Schiff's biography about her won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize.

Think, Write, Speak is one of those books I am sad to have already finished. You want it to go on. And on....

The house where Vladimir Nabokov was born in St. Petersburg in 1899 and lived with his family until 1917 when they fled Russia and the Bolsheviks. Open for tourists unless, of course, it's the height of the tourist season when it is closed four days for maintenance. Located near St. Isaac's Cathedral/Photo by Patricia Leslie
 The house where Vladimir Nabokov was born in St. Petersburg in 1899/Photo by Patricia Leslie

A plaque at the house where Vladimir Nabokov was born in St. Petersburg in 1899/Photo by Patricia Leslie