Thursday, May 12, 2005

Native American Art

I must confess that I love Native American art. Indeed, I developed a love for Native American jewellery at a young age, in the Seventies when Native American jewellery of turquoise and other materials was in fashion. Of course, while I do love Native American art, I must confess to knowing very little about it. I can name only a few artists and I am largely ignorant of the various artistic traditions of the various Native peoples. Like a lot of people in mid-Missouri I am part Cherokee, but then like a lot of people in mid-Missouri I am also largely ignorant of my Native heritage.

Here I should point out that the term "Native American art" is somewhat misleading, just as the term "Native American" is. The term "Native American" does not refer to a single ethnicity no more than the terms "European" or "Asian" do. There are many different Native American tribes, each with their own histories, customs, beliefs, and so on. One Native American tribe may be as different from another as England is from Saudi Arabia. "Native American art" then simply refers to the collective art of those peoples who lived in the Americas prior to the coming of the Europeans. It is comprised of a vast array of different styles and works in different media; it is perhaps more varied and diverse than European art ever was.

Aside from the Native American jewellery I saw as a child, I cannot say when I had my first significant exposure to Native American art. I suppose it was at one of the pow wows that were once held in Moberly every year. The pow wows were organised by the late Harold Carlson and took place the first weekend after Labour Day. At the pow wows there were always a good number of merchants. And some of them actually sold genuine Native American art. It was not necessarily the expensive works of art one might find at a gallery, but it was art nonetheless. As to the pow wows, sadly they ended when Harold Carlson passed on a year or two ago.

A more substantial encounter with Native American art occured when I first visited Best of the West in Columbia. Best of the West is a store which sells authentic Native American art, jewellery, and decor. Much of it comes from the American Southwest, although they also carry Native American works from elsewhere as well (such as the Cherokee baskets). They have a wide array of kachinas, pipes, dreamcatchers, sculptures, and jewellery. Indeed, their jewellery is impressive, in silver, gold, turquoise, red coral, and other materials. They recently had a fire in their basement, but fortunately it did little damage. I wish they still had a web site so you readers could see some of their goods. It is easily one of the coolest stores in downtown Columbia.

As far as Native American artists, I only know a few by name (as I said, I am largely ignorant of Native American art). One of my favourite painters is Michael Horse (if some of you find the name familiar it is because he is also an actor who has appeared in such films as Riders in the Storm and Navajo Blues, not to mention done a lot of voice work in cartoons). What I like about Michael Horse's paintings and drawings is that they have a sense of movement to them. It's as if each one tells a small portion of a story. An example is Buffalo Hunt. You can practically hear the hunters bearing down on the buffalo. A man of many talents, he also makes jewellery. He makes the most beautiful rings in a variety of media. David K. John is another of my favourite painters. He has a wonderful sense for colour. Much of his appeal for me is that his work seems more expressionistic, rather than a literal potrayal of what he is painting. He draws much of his inspiration from Navajo mythology. I also like the work of the late Dan Viets Lomahaftewa. I like his work because he mixes traditional Hopi styles with modern ones. His paintings also have the most vivid colours I have ever seen.

As far as sculpture goes, I like the work of Cecil Calnimptewa, a Hopi who makes the most beautiful kachinas. The detail in his kachinas are just incredible. And his kachinas practically seem to be in motion! Another sculptor I like is Richard Hunt, a Kwaguilth Native from British Columbia. His work is just beautiful. I also like the work of Roxanne Swenzel. Her work conveys emotion very well. Her sculptures also seem to me to blend both her Pueblo and German heritage, showing influences from both.

For those of you interested in Native American art, here are four links to the web sites of four very nice galleries:

Kiva Fine Art

Rainmaker Art

Shared Visions

Yosimite Native Art Gallery

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