The National Museum of the American Indians George Gustav
Heye Center in New Yorks exhibition Unbound: Narrative
Art of the Plains opens March 12 and continues through Dec.
4 in the museums East Gallery; admission is free.
Unbound reflects the dynamic tradition of narrative
art among Native Nations of the Great Plains. The exhibition traces
the evolution of the art form from historic hides, muslins and ledger
books to a wide selection of contemporary works by Native artists,
the majority commissioned by the museum exclusively for this exhibition.
Maybee (Arapaho), Conductors of Our Own Destiny, 2013. Photo
by Ernest Amoroso, NMAI.
- Curated by Emil Her Many Horses (Oglala Lakota), the exhibition
reflects more than three years of research
- 4,000-square-foot exhibition is in the museums East Gallery
- 76 objects total: 17 historic works and 59 contemporary works
- Nearly all of the contemporary works will be exhibited to the
public for the first time: 50 works commissioned exclusively for
the exhibition; seven works acquired for the exhibition; two works
already in the museums collection
- Historic figures/artists are: Long Soldier (Lakota/Nakota);
Mountain Chief (Blackfeet); Bears Heart (Southern Cheyenne);
Zotom (Kiowa); Chief Washakie (Shoshone); Canté-wani'ca,
or No Heart (Yanktonai); Spotted Tail (Apsáalooke [Crow]);
Cehu'pa or Jaw (Hunkpapa Lakota); Black Chicken (Yanktonai); Rain
in the Face (Hunkpapa Lakota); Old Buffalo, or Old Bull (Lakota)
- Contemporary artists are: Ronald Burgess (Comanche); Sherman
Chaddlesone (Kiowa); David Dragonfly (Blackfeet/Assiniboine);
Lauren Good Day Giago (Arikara/Hidatsa/Blackfeet/Plains Cree);
Darryl Growing Thunder (Assiniboine/Sioux); Juanita Growing Thunder-Fogarty
(Assiniboine/Sioux); Terrance Guardipee (Blackfeet); Vanessa Jennings
(Kiowa/Pima); Dallin Maybee (Northern Arapaho/Seneca); Chester
Medicine Crow (Apsáalooke [Crow]); Chris Pappan (Osage/Kaw/Cheyenne
River Lakota); Joel Pulliam (Oglala Lakota); Martin E. Red Bear
(Oglala/Sicangu Lakota); Norman Frank Sheridan (Southern Cheyenne/Arapaho);
Dwayne Wilcox (Oglala Lakota); Jim Yellowhawk (Cheyenne River
- Exhibition features interactive STQRY app for mobile devices,
providing visitors with unique digital content, including 21 audio
stories that provide additional curatorial information and personal
perspective from many of the artists themselves
- Exhibition has four main sections: Introduction; From Past to
Present; Warrior Art; Contemporary Expressions; and an additional
Good Day Giago (Sahnish [Arikara]/Minitari [Hidatsa]/Niitsitapii
[Blackfoot/Blackfeet]/Plains Cree), A Warrior's Story, Honoring
Grandpa Blue Bird, 2012. Muslin, wool cloth, dye, brass, cotton
thread, brass beads, satin ribbon, imitation sinew. Purchase
made possible by Devon Hutchins. Photo by R.A. Whiteside,
Introduction: Warrior-artists from the Native
nations of North Americas plains have long practiced a pictorial
style of illustration. This dynamic tradition began with depictions
of visionary experiences. Men also painted buffalo-hide tipis, robes
and shirts to record their successes in battle and horse raiding.
In the 1800s, Native artists began to use pencils, crayons, canvas,
muslin and paper. Although the materials were new, their reasons
for painting and drawing initially did not change. Freedom was vastly
curtailed during the reservation era (18701920), as the U.S.
government enacted policies that forced Plains people to give up
their traditions and attempted to erase their Native identities.
Pictorial drawings became a crucial means of addressing cultural
upheaval. Since the 1960s, narrative artists have freely blended
traditional and modern materials to depict everything from ceremonies
and family histories to humor and contemporary life.
From Past to Present: Viewed together, Plains narrative
artworks from the past and present reflect a strong sense of cultural
identity. As life on the plains changed, artists used pictorial
storytelling to record the past and preserve their culture. Hallmarks
of the narrative or ledger art formrepresentational figures,
strong solid colors, events shown in sequence and stylized symbolsare
visible throughout this exhibition. Whether working 150 or five
years ago, Native artists have used this style to express what is
important in their personal and communal lives.
Warrior Art: Male warrior-artists traditionally painted
tipis, buffalo robes and shirts with scenes of accomplishments such
as taking horses, killing enemies or rescuing wounded comrades.
These depictions served as public reminders and as validation. In
the 1800s, as the buffalo were decimated, artists increasingly used
cloth rather than hide. Paper also became widely available through
drawing and ledger books. Warrior-artists used the new media to
provide intricate chronicles of their own and others exploits.
Often created with factory-made pens, pencils, brushes, ink, crayons
and watercolor, such drawings provided a means of cultural continuity
during the early years of the reservation era (18701920).
Around the turn of the 20th century, many artists entered boarding
schools and were introduced to Western-oriented styles. As a result,
the production of narrative art declined.
Contemporary Expressions: The 1960s saw a resurgence of
Native-led art. The establishment in 1962 of the Institute of American
Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M., encouraged new expressions informed
and inspired by cultural traditions. Ledger art flourished and was
widely collected in the 1960s and 1970s. Today men and women artists
draw upon their cultural traditions, personal experiences and artistic
sensibilities as they continue to shape the Plains narrative style.
In 2012, the National Museum of the American Indian commissioned
new works from 11 prominent narrative artists. Artists were selected
from Native nations that traditionally practiced pictorial storytelling.
With no limits on theme or approach, each artist created works that
embody his or her distinctive style and voice.
Exhibition curator, Emil Her Many Horses (Oglala Lakota)
offers insight about the development of Unbound: Narrative
Art of the Plains and will be joined by several of the featured
artists for a meet and greet in the exhibition gallery. A longtime
curator for the National Museum of the American Indian, Her Many
Horses is an award-winning artist who creates contemporary beadwork
and dolls. The Curators Talk will be held Thursday,
March 10, at 6 p.m. in the museums Diker Pavilion.
Though historically associated mostly with male artists, many women
are now known for their fine ledger art. Crossing Lines: Women
and Ledger Art examines the historical role of women artists
within the narrative tradition by welcoming Giago, Growing Thunder-Fogarty
and Wakeah Jhane (Comanche/Blackfeet/Kiowa) as they illuminate
their own unique backgrounds and motivations as storyteller artists.
The event coincides with the exhibitions public opening Saturday,
March 12, and takes place from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the museums
Heart (Nock-ko-ist/James Bear's Heart/Nah-koh-hist), Southern
Tsitsistas/Suhtai (Cheyenne), 18511882), Cheyennes Among
the Buffalo, ca. 1875. Paper, graphite, crayon. Drawing titled
in pencil by Lt. Richard Henry Pratt, later the founder of
the Carlisle Indian School. Photo by Carmelo Guadagno, NMAI.
The museums Annual Childrens Festival, held Saturday,
April 30, and Sunday, May 1, will feature fun and games developed
for Native children living on the Great Plains of North America.
Many of these activities were more than pastimes and helped teach
children survival skills. Activities include the ring and pin game
and hoop throw, decorating a parfleche and creating a T-dress doll.
Visitors will also hear stories of the Plains, explore the museums
handling collection and be invited to join interactive dance experiences.
The event takes place from noon to 5 p.m. each day.
Admission to all programs is free.
About the National Museum of
the American Indian
The National Museum of the American Indian, George Gustav
Heye Center, is located at One Bowling Green in New York City. For
additional information, including hours and directions, visit AmericanIndian.SI.edu.
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Join the conversation using #UnboundNarratives.