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
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 Science.at 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,
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 artists.today 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
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.
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.
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