American Indian exhibit presents a blend of old and new cultures
By DIANE HEILENMAN © The Courier-Journal
The word was out months ago that a special group of artists was being invited to Louisville this fall.
Don't miss the chance to see glass works by Preston Singletary and Tony Jojola, local artists were saying. Don't miss the textiles of Wendy Ponca or the beaded portraits of Marcus Amerman.
Don't miss the chance to hear Truman Lowe, an influential scholar/artist whose opinion on indigenous arts has been solicited by the likes of the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Cincinnati Academy of Art, regional curators were saying.
The buzz is about "Head, Heart and Hands: Native American Craft Traditions in a Contemporary World," which opens Friday at the Kentucky Art and Craft Gallery. It is sponsored by Philip Morris Companies Inc.
The gallery decided to present "Head, Heart and Hands" because such works are rarely seen in this area, where regional craft traditions take precedence, according to Brion Clinkingbeard, the gallery's curator and exhibit organizer. This show is intended to be a new experience for many gallery goers. That's one reason it is also being supported by a grant from the Kentucky Humanities Council.
One point of the exhibition is that contemporary American Indian craft is born out of the time-honored traditions of tribes that clung fiercely to their cultures when swamped by European and American colonization.
Another point is that contemporary American Indian craft also reflects the evolution of tribal crafts to "trinkets" and tourist art, viable economic commodities critical to the survival of small societies.
But the fundamental purpose of the exhibition, according to Clinkingbeard, is to express "the deep, universal desires that all people have to make sense of the world around them, to examine their lives."
Some of the 28 artists, who work in painting, basketry, glass, wood sculpture, pottery, photography and fiber, have their eyes firmly focused on wide horizons. Others look quietly inside themselves for inspiration.
Rick Bartow (Mad River Band of the Yurok in Newport, Ore.) is a sculptor who uses the alder or cedar he finds while collecting firewood for his weekly sweat lodge. He travels widely for inspiration and has met and worked with other native people, such as the Maori of New Zealand and the Ainu of Japan.
Amerman (Choctaw of Santa Fe, N.M.) uses beadwork to create portraits of well-known people, like singer Janet Jackson and actress Brooke Shields. "If you (a native artist) do a painting or a sculpture, say of Janet Jackson, then it's like you're going over into Western culture," he writes in the catalog. "With beadwork, you're taking it back; it becomes Indian. Janet Jackson becomes Indian."
Jojola (Isleta Pueblo of Tacoma, Wash.) is a sophisticated glass artist and a former studio assistant to the celebrated Dale Chihuly, whose series of giant chandeliers done for the canals of Venice has made critical and popular waves in the international art community.
A more traditional approach occurs in the work of Clara Neptune Keezer (Passamaquoddy of Perry, Maine), who makes ash and sweetgrass baskets.
The Ortiz family (Cochiti Pueblo of Cochiti, N.M.) makes animated pottery "storyteller" figures, a figurative tradition steeped in familial effort, from searching for native clay to firing the works with cow dung.
Other artists maintain tradition but merge it solidly with contemporary issues. For instance, sculptor Al Qöyawayma (Hopi of Scottsdale, Ariz.) used his Fulbright Fellowship to help Maori craftsmen re-establish their ancient ceramic traditions. As a mechanical engineer, he helped found the American Indian Science and Engineering Society.
Margaret Wood (Navajo/Seminole of Phoenix) founded Native American Fashions Inc., for which she designs and produces clothing and quilts, many after the work of her mother.
C. S. Tarpley (Choctaw/Chickasaw/Anglo, or as he puts it "no tribal affiliation" of Seattle) is a glass artist who notes the value of an uncommon youth in Santa Fe.
"At an age when I would have been flipping burgers in any other town, I was casting bronze, silversmithing and learning to cut precious stones for minimum wage," he wrote. The goal now with his glass art is "to honor the multiple nationalities and ethnicities that comprise my family."
The gallery is also showing "The Hope Series," four blankets commissioned by the American Indian College Fund to commemorate tribes. Each blanket design is made in an edition of 1,200 by Pendleton Woolen Mills and sells for $425.
"Head, Heart and Hands" continues through Oct. 31, 1998. There will be a free reception Sept. 16 from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at the Kentucky Art and Craft Gallery, 609 W. Main St. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Several workshops and programs will be offered as part of "Head, Heart and Hands: Native American Craft Traditions in a Contemporary World." They include:
Sept. 15, 1998: Wood-firing demonstration, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., by potter Nathan Youngblood (Santa Clara Pueblo of Santa Fe, N.M.) at the University of Louisville's art department. Free.
Sept. 16, 1998: Hand-building clay vessel demonstration, 11 a.m. to noon and 2 to 3:30 p.m., and a lecture on Santa Clara pottery, 12:15 to 1:30 p.m., at Kentucky Art and Craft Gallery. Both by Youngblood. Free.
Sept. 17, 1998: Silversmithing lecture and demonstration by Norbert Peshlakai (Navajo of Fort Wingate, N.M.), 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Eastern Kentucky University's art department, Richmond. Free.
Sept. 17, 1998: Noon to 1 p.m. lecture on American Indian textile quilts by Margaret Wood (Navajo/Seminole of Phoenix). Location to be announced. Free.
Sept. 18, 1998: Glass-blowing demonstration by Preston Singletary (Tlingit of Seattle) at Firefly Glass Studio in Crestwood. Free but reservations required.
For reservations and information, call the Kentucky Art and Craft Gallery at (502) 589-0102.
DIANE HEILENMAN © The Courier-Journal Aug. 16, 1998