Updated Eiteljorg galleries reframe the context of Native art

Eiteljorg case
The Eiteljorg’s new Native American Galleries, featuring the exhibition “Expressions of Life: Native Art in North America,” opened on June 25. (Photo provided by the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art)

Artworks arranged by geographic region are out at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, where newly redesigned Native American Galleries instead focus on three themes: relation, continuation and innovation.

The $6 million upgrade of the museum’s second floor exhibition space doesn’t constrain examples of creativity to “wetlands,” “plains” or “plateau.” Visitors can use touch-screen digital hubs to learn more about Tyra Shackleford’s “The Lady,” a finger-woven shawl that extends 9 feet in length to pay tribute to Chickasaw women, or Geo Neptune’s “Ceremony of the Singing Stars,” a basket boasting an array of vibrant colors.

“The Lady” and “Ceremony of the Singing Stars” were created in 2017, when the pieces were showcased at the Eiteljorg’s Indian Market and Festival and acquired for the museum’s permanent collection.

Dorene Red Cloud, associate curator of Native American art at the museum, describes the revamped galleries as a “reinstall” of paintings, textiles, sculptures and jewelry.

“Hopefully, it will allow for a new appreciation for the diversity in Native art, both old and new and in between,” Red Cloud said. “And also promote excitement about, ‘Oh, I see this connection from this older piece to now. What’s it going to be like in the future?’ It’s good to get people thinking that way.”

Eiteljorg The Lady
Tyra Shackleford, Chickasaw, born 1987, created “The Lady” from soy silk yarn woven with an interlinking sprang technique, commercial dyes, wood brooch and pin in 2017. (Photo provided by the Eiteljorg)

Text accompanying the present exhibition, “Expressions of Life: Native Art in North America,” which opened with the revamped galleries on June 25, characterizes the past geographical format of displaying Native art as representing “the colonial gaze.”

The relation, continuation and innovation themes “address commonalities in Native life and art.”

It’s also possible to interpret a chronological aspect to the themes. Relating to animals, plants and spiritual entities was part of Native life before Europeans arrived in North America.

Continuation connotes perseverance once Europeans colonized. “We Native peoples are still around,” Red Cloud said. “You hear people say, ‘Oh, there’s no more Indians’ or ‘They’re all gone.’ We’re still here.”

And innovation can be inferred as Native artists creating on their own terms today.

Red Cloud, an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, said it’s encouraging that organizations are ceding oversight of Native art exhibitions.

“You’re going to see more and more museums and institutions turning to Native peoples to be the expert and authority on the art,” she said.

Executing the first makeover of its Native American Galleries since the museum opened in 1989, the Eiteljorg is stepping into the 21st century with touch-screen digital hubs.

Canadian-based Origin Studios contributed to the design of the new-look galleries. Sarah Beam-Borg, director of business and project development at Origin, said the touch-screen stations allow the museum flexibility when updating descriptions of what’s on display.

“The digital labels are tied into their collection management database,” Beam-Borg said. “So that information can be updated once in the collection database and it appears here. But it also can appear online for outreach learning.”

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One thought on “Updated Eiteljorg galleries reframe the context of Native art

  1. Red Cloud: “What’s it going to be like in the future? It’s good to get people thinking that way.”

    Waters (from his book):
    “What have the conquering Anglos accomplished as custodians of the vast new, beautiful land they have gained? How enchantingly diverse the landscapes of North America once were, with range upon range of snowcapped mountains, lush prairies, illimitable plains of shortgrass giving way to tawny, unbaked deserts and fetid jungles, all teaming with life in every form: tiny plants and dense forests, birds, reptiles, and insects, and countless species of animals, including the buffalo whose great herds blackened the plains. All of these, too, Indians believed were children of their common Mother Earth and so had equal rights to life. They supplied the needs of men and women, but they were not sacrificed needlessly and wantonly. And always the Indians ritually obtained their consent to their sacrifice. So, too, was the land regarded as sacred and inviolate, being their Mother Earth. With it and all other forms of life, the Indians knew themselves as part of one living whole.

    “The Christian Anglo newcomers held a dramatically different view…Perhaps it came from the first chapter of Genesis in the Judeo-Christian Bible, in which man was divinely commanded to “subdue” the earth. That was exactly what the white conquerors did as they proceeded westward. They leveled whole forests under the axe, plowed under the grasslands, dammed and drained the rivers, gutted the mountains for gold and silver, and divided and sold the land itself. Accompanying all this destruction was the extermination of birds and beasts, not alone for profit or sport, but to indulge in a wanton lust for killing.

    “The result of this rapacious onslaught is all too evident now, at least to environmentalists and a mixed bag of worried scientists: the destruction of the land itself, contamination of rivers, lakes and bounding oceans, pollution of the air to the extent that toxic alarms are frequently sounded in all large cities…. the entire nation and all its natural resources converted into ready cash! Even Ripley would have a hard time believing it.

    “…. We are now on the threshold of another cyclical change, a new era. What it will bring, no one knows. But we can obtain a glimpse into the future from the immeasurable past of the people who are the oldest inhabitants of America. They have endured through the centuries because of their loving respect for the earth and their sense of unity with all that exists. This may be a lesson the tormented and fragmented world can learn from them before it is too late: to establish relationships and love with one another, and with all other forms of living nature.”

    Source: Brave Are My People— Indian Heroes Not Forgotten, Frank Waters, 1993

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