Exhibit features 20th century American Indian artists.
Eric Singleton admits that the National Cowboy & Western Heritage’s new exhibit “American Indian Artists: 20th Century Masters” might be a bit misnamed.
“On any level, these are master artists. Oftentimes I think we mention the word ‘indigenous,’ ‘Native,’ ‘American Indian,’ and I think that’s really just to kind of provide the public at large a context. Because these are American masters, these are just master artists ... no matter who you talk to, no matter where you go, no matter when,” said Singleton, the museum’s curator of ethnology.
The exhibition features more than 50 works from 40 artists, including Frank Big Bear Jr., Allan Houser and the Kiowa Six.
“I’m still processing ... I’ve never had that before,” said Southern Cheyenne painter Merlin Little Thunder of being considered one of the “20th Century Masters” during the exhibit’s opening reception. “I think it’s great.”
At least three living artists based in Oklahoma — Little Thunder, Robert Taylor (Blackfeet, Cherokee, Osage and Crow) and Vanessa Jennings (Kiowa, Apache and Pima) — have work featured in exhibit, on view through spring.
“Those are three people in particular who are living will be cemented in any history book going forward, because they’re just great at what they do. You don’t have a show like this and not include them,” Singleton said.
“Merlin’s work is so unique ... I don’t even know how to describe it sometimes. But then you get Fritz Scholder: When you see a Fritz Scholder you know it. When you see a T.C. Cannon, you know it. When you see a Harrison Begay, when you see a Jerome Tiger, and that’s really what
defines these people as masters as well is because you see it and you know it. It’s like saying, ‘Hey, I know what a Picasso is.’”
Taylor said he was excited to see his painting “Like a Candle in the Wind” displayed next to one of Scholder’s works.
“He was a doing a lecture in Tulsa — and he was just really hitting it big, hitting full stride — and I went ... and we got to talking. And he’s the one who told me, ‘Do not label yourself an Indian artist. Don’t tell people that. Tell ‘em you’re an artist.’ And I never have since then,” said Taylor, who lives in Tulsa.
“I’m very honored. I hope that something I’ve done will inspire somebody young like some of the old-timers did for me and we’ll see all new creations that we can’t even imagine yet.”
The exhibition is drawn from the museum’s permanent collections, primarily from its Arthur and Shifra Silberman Collection. It was organized by Steve Grafe, the curator of art at Maryhill Museum of Art in Goldendale, Washington, previously the National Cowboy Museum’s curator of American Indian Art.
Grafe said he selected in 2015 about 35 paintings from the Silberman Collection to show at Maryhill, and when its run ended there, he offered the exhibit labels and signage to Singleton, who expanded the show for the larger Oklahoma City gallery space.
“The Silberman is one of the really premier American Indian art collections,” said Grafe at a recent guest lecture at the National Cowboy Museum. “People need to see this because they need to know their art history.”
Visitors view “Peyote Mother” by Archie Blackowl in August at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s new exhibit “American Indian Artists: 20th Century Masters” in Oklahoma City.
Eric Singleton, curator of ethnology at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, talks in August about a “Duck Basket” by an unknown artist, featured in the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s new exhibit “American Indian Artists: 20th Century Masters” in Oklahoma City
“Western Front #7,” by Frank Big Bear Jr., is included in the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s new exhibit “American Indian Artists: 20th Century Masters.”
“Duck Basket,” by an unknown artist, is on view at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s new exhibit “American Indian Artists: 20th Century Masters” in Oklahoma City.
“Poetry that falls from the sky,” by Merlin Little Thunder, is included in the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s new exhibit “American Indian Artists: 20th Century Masters.”