New Permanent Installation: Native Artists of North America

January 11, 2017 at 3:39 pm Leave a comment

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One of the big and exciting changes at the Newark Museum is our brand new Native American galleries, titled Native Artists of North America. Newly installed in the Mary Sue Sweeney Price and Clement Alexander Price Atrium galleries, at the entrance to the American art collection, this permanent installation showcases more than 100 works of Native American art, representing numerous tribal nations throughout the United States and Canada. Bringing together a wide range of historical and contemporary works, the show presents a diversity of types and styles of art: meticulously rendered watercolors; rare wood and stone carvings; handcrafted clothing and accessories; and exquisite examples of basketry, textiles, pottery, instruments and other objects, both beautiful and useful.

Rather than a comprehensive survey of all indigenous cultures, the new installation is designed to spotlight strengths of Newark’s unique collection, with a focus on Northwest Coast (Haida, Tlingit and Tsimshian), Northern California (Pomo) and the Southwest
(Pueblo watercolors and pottery, and Navajo and Hopi textiles). The Native American collection, which for many years was located on the second floor of the South Wing of the Museum, has not simply moved to a new space. Most of the material in Native Artists
of North America will also be new to most visitors. The works have been carefully selected from storage, studied, cleaned and repaired, and are looking their very best.

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Whether one is an expert on indigenous art or enjoys these works on a purely visual level, visitors to Native Artists of North America are treated to a rich range of textures, colors, materials and techniques. One of the gallery’s highlights is Newark’s excellent collection of Pueblo watercolors, a modern approach to painting taken up by many Native American artists in the early 20th century. Newark has works by several of the acknowledged masters of this style, ranging from documentary subjects to abstract designs. With works like Kachinas Distributing Gifts, artists like Fred Kabotie (Hopi) documented the public dances of their communities at a time when ceremonial activities were being
repressed by government policies of assimilation. The vitality of the living traditions and unique stories these objects tell comes further into focus through the interpretive gallery text, written by a diverse team of Native American artists and curators.

Studying the collection over the past year and a half has led to some exciting re-discoveries and new attributions, largely thanks to the work of Adriana Greci Green, Ph.D., the lead curator on this project. One of the masterpieces of Newark’s Northwest Coast
collection is a Bear Rattle that came into the collection in 1955 with no known artist, and is now understood to be the work of Sdiihldaa/Simeon Stilthda, a revered 19th-century Haida chief. Newark’s Bear Rattle is one of only six known examples by this master carver. Dr. Green has worked closely with Newark’s registrars, conservators, designers and curators, and with the distinguished team of Native artists and scholars she assembled to research and produce this exhibition. The curatorial team includes Sherrie Smith-Ferri, Ph.D. (Dry Creek Pomo-Coast Miwok), D.Y. Begay (Diné), Susan Sekaquaptewa (Hopi), Emil Her Many Horses (Oglala Lakota) and Mique’l Dangeli, Ph.D. (Tsimshian and Tlingit Nations). Having these colleagues visit and lend their expertise to our collections has been a wonderful experience.

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Recognizing that the indigenous art of New Jersey is underrepresented at the Museum, building our collection to better represent Lenape art and culture has emerged as an important goal for the future. Working on Native Artists of North America has allowed us to meet and begin building relationships with the Nanticoke Lenne-Lenape and the Ramapough Lenape Nations.

— Tricia Laughlin Bloom, Ph.D, Curator of American Art

 

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