A Pow-Wow of Art: Native American Works

May 24 – August 21, 2011 —

The exhibition A Pow-Wow of Art: Native American Works offers a selection of artworks, all drawn from the Museum of Nebraska Art’s permanent collection, created by Native Americans. With a long history of rendering functional objects with artistic sensitivity, Native American artists have been influenced by their exposure in the 19th century to other art media and now include non-functional pieces in their artistic repertoire.

The 12 works in the exhibition were created between 1898 and 2005, inspired by Native traditions yet created in contemporaneous forms. The objects range from a Lakota Sioux star quilt and a beaded vest to book illustrations, prints, and a ceramic vessel. Each reflects the Native culture with pattern and animal images as common threads. The artists represented are Roger Broer, Angel De Cora, Laurie Houseman-Whitehawk, Henry Moses, Donald D. Ruleaux, Andrew Standing Soldier, Jacquie Stevens, Susette La Flesche Tibbles, Nellie Two Bulls, and an unknown Native American artist.

With the introduction in the late 19th century of quilting to the Plains tribes by missionaries, government officials’ wives, and at boarding schools during the beginning of the reservation period, the imagery eventually evolved from geometric patterns to the single star. Although used by other tribes, it was the Lakota who made this image their own. Quilted by Nellie Two Bulls in 1974-1975, it was presented in the Lakota tradition as a gift to honor Dr. Bob Park and his wife Karen for his service during his medical internship at the Pine Ridge reservation, near Valentine, Nebraska.

Roger Broer, born in Omaha, Nebraska to a Native American mother and white father, was adopted and raised by Ludwig and Frieda Broer from Randolph, Nebraska. He received his Bachelor of Arts with Extended Fine Arts degree from what is now Montana State University Billings followed by graduate work at Central Washington University, Ellensburg. Known for his monoprints, his Native heritage has been a predominant influence in his imagery. An enrolled member of the Lakota Sioux, he currently lives in South Dakota where he continues to be an active and prolific artist.

Among the four small books on view, three were illustrated by two noteworthy Native American women. Susette La Flesche Tibbles, a famous member of the Omaha tribe, was a well-known lecturer, writer, artist, and interpreter. She was educated at the Omaha Presbyterian Mission School starting at age 8, then attended the Elizabeth (New Jersey) Institute, a Presbyterian women’s seminary. She became a spokesperson for Indian rights, bringing her to the attention of many prominent people. She served as Chief Standing Bear’s interpreter at the famous 1879 trial in which Indians were recognized as persons. In 1881, she married Thomas Tibbles, the newspaperman who had taken on Chief Standing Bear’s cause. After traveling and living elsewhere, they returned to Nebraska where she helped farm her allotted reservation land while pursuing her own literary and artistic endeavors. The book she illustrated, Oo-mah-ha Ta-wa-tha (Omaha City), was published in honor of the famous Trans-Mississippi Exposition in Omaha in 1898.

Angel De Cora of the Winnebago tribe graduated from Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1896, becoming a well-known artist specializing in book and magazine illustrations. Her life reflects the era. She was taken at age 12 from her tribe’s reservation in Nebraska to a government-run boarding school in Virginia to continue her education and assimilation into white culture. During a period when few women attended college, De Cora furthered her education at the prestigious women’s school followed by study with noted American artists in Philadelphia and Boston. Her successful professional career was also as a teacher at the Carlisle Indian School and at the forefront of encouraging expression of Indian customs.

These works by Native American artists bring attention to the artistry of a group of individuals who create art through traditional and non-traditional media, giving insight into Native imagery and culture.