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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


March 6, 2004 - Issue 108


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For Denver Art Museum's Native American collection, a leap into the present

by Elana Ashanti Jefferson - Denver (CO) Post Staff Writer
credits: photo: Nancy Blomberg, curator of the Denver Art Museum's Native Arts department, arranges one of the 320 contemporary pieces recently donated to the museum. - Post / John Prieto

Nancy Blomberg, curator of the Denver Art Museum's Native Arts department, arranges one of the 320 contemporary pieces recently donated to the museum. - Post / John PrietoLongtime visitors to the Denver Art Museum might have wondered about the absence of much contemporary work in the third-floor Native American collection.

Despite the significant assembly of such eloquently crafted and culturally powerful pieces as Northwest Coast woodcarving, Naskapi painted leather garments, Winnebago twined weaving, Plains Indian beadwork, Navajo weaving, Pueblo pottery and California basketry, modern Native American artwork has been the collection's shortfall.

Until now.

A private collector recently bestowed 320 contemporary Native American pieces on the Denver Art Museum - one of the most noteworthy contributions to the American Indian collection in its six-decade history.

"The combination of our outstanding historic collection with these magnificent contemporary works creates one of the most comprehensive collections of any museum in this country," says Nancy Blomberg, curator of the DAM's Native Arts department.

"Probably 90 percent of the finest artists working over the last 10 years are represented," she says.

The collector behind the donation is Virginia Mattern of Stamford, Conn. Her love affair with American Indian art blossomed during her periodic trips to Santa Fe. The collector's hobby began with miniature pottery but quickly grew to encompass larger works. Until recently, Mattern stored her lot in her own temperature-controlled mini-museum.

When the aficionado decided to donate her finds, she turned her attention to the Denver Art Museum and its 19,000-plus-object American Indian collection.

Fifteen pieces from the donation, which arrived shortly before Christmas, have been cataloged and incorporated into the museum's existing Native Arts exhibit.

The remaining pieces from the donation will join the mix after the museum's expansion is completed and the department is relocated to another floor in the existing West 14th Avenue Parkway building.

The sampling already on display gives visitors a taste of the impressive and vast works that Mattern assembled.

A warm, vibrant acrylic painting by Dan Namingha of the Hopi Pueblo is one of the first pieces from the donation that visitors spot after stepping off the elevators. Called "Elements of Summer," the piece incorporates four butterfly mavens among a yellow- and-orange background with dollops of color streaking through the image like sunlight passing through a prism.

"These are important images in Hopi religious ceremonies," Blomberg says.

The painting hangs behind the exhibit's Pueblo Platform, where a number of the other new works are on display. An adobe-colored jar by Lonnie Vigil of the Nambe Pueblo is shaped like a plateau rising from the desert. It features a cloudlike effect around the shoulder, which the artist created by employing a black-fire technique to dust the jar.

A blackware bowl by Nathan Youngblood of the Santa Clara Pueblo is encircled in perfectly formed ribs and resembles a flat squash dipped in gothic nail polish.

Multiple Native American symbols, including a trail of buffalo, bear claws and crosses, appear on a pictorial jar by Susan Folwell, also from the Santa Clara Pueblo. The artist enhances the texture behind her images by using an X-Acto knife to chip away at the scene's horizon - an excruciatingly delicate process in which she risks cracking the pot with each tap.

Near Folwell's work stands a jar by Evelyn Cheromiah of the Laguna Pueblo. A geometric black-and-white and square check pattern is painted around the body of the piece.

Traditional symbols are elegantly etched into the deep salmon finish of a double-spouted wedding jar by Richard Ebelacker of the Santa Clara Pueblo. And San Felipe Pueblo artist Daryl Candelaria's jar, created by assembling various shards of pottery, is reminiscent of a ceramic quilt with various birds, dancers and figures reflected in each patch.

In the Plains section of the exhibit, two standing dolls by Lakota tribe member Rhonda Holy Bear are entrancing with their realistic wood faces, braided human hair, beaded and painted dresses and moccasins, and miniature silver drop belts that look just like the lifesize versions displayed elsewhere in the collection.

Other artists represented in Mattern's DAM donation include Christine McHorse, Robert Tenorio, Barbara and Joseph Cerno and Randy Nahohai.

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.

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