Briefly: The American Indian Collection

Joslyn Art Museum's collection of American Indian art features historic and contemporary painting, sculpture, drawings, prints, and objects by the native peoples of North America. Highlights of the collection include ledger books by Howling Wolf and White Horse and a beaded jacket belonging to Logan Fontenelle, grandson of the renowned Omaha chief Big Elk. Contemporary American Indian works include paintings and works on paper by Fritz Scholder, Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, and Arthur Amiotte; sculptures by Allan Houser and Bob Haozous; and photographs by Zig Jackson and Victor Masayesva, Jr; as well as contemporary interpretations of traditional objects and materials.

Below are highlights selected from Joslyn's American Indian collection.
American Indian
Arthur Amiotte (Oglala Lakota (Sioux), born 1942),
Ascent of the Maiden , 1963 ,
casein (tempera) on paper, 23 x 17 in.; 58.42 x 43.18 cm
Museum purchase with funds provided by HunTel Systems, 2000.5

The artist describes this painting as a depiction of an Eastern Sioux (Dakota) myth. A great flood once covered the earth, killing all humans and turning their bodies and blood into catlinite, the red stone now revered for the making of pipes. One virtuous maiden survived, rescued by a god disguised as an eagle who swooped down and carried her to a mountain top; there she gave birth to twins, fathered by the eagle-god. 

MORE DETAILS >
Arthur Amiotte (Oglala Lakota (Sioux), born 1942),
New Horse Power in 1913 , 1994,
acrylic and collage on ca, 18 x 24 in.; 45.72 x 60.96 cm
Museum purchase, 1997.26

This delightful composition, like many of Amiotte’s collage paintings, is infused with gently barbed humor. It refers to the early acquisition of cars by Plains people — sometimes in advance of (and thus provoking the envy of) their white neighbors.

MORE DETAILS >
Artist Unknown (Crow, 19th century),
Gun Case , ca.1870–80 ,
hide, beads, cloth, length without fringe: 38 in.; 96.52 cm
Gift of Mrs. A. H. Richardson, 1956.112

Given the importance of guns for hunting and warfare, it is not surprising that Plains men would treat them as treasured possessions and keep them in beautiful cases like this one. The beadwork colors, the elongated triangular designs, and the graceful fringe all suggest that this particular case is of Crow manufacture.

MORE DETAILS >
Artist Unknown (American, Yupik, 19th century),
Visor , n.d.,
wood, ivory, paint, feathers, plant and animal fiber, 7¼ x 13¼ x 9¾ inches, 16.83 cm long
Gift of Mrs. A.F. Jonas, 1952.45

The wooden hats and visors worn by Native Alaskan hunters provided protection from the glare of water and ice, while the beak-like appearance might have made a hunter in a kayak less noticeable to his prey. Further, the visor may have been spiritually as well as physically transformational, giving a hunter supernatural strengths and skills as well as masking his human identity.

MORE DETAILS >
Artist Unknown (American, Haida, 19th century),
Mask , n.d.,
painted wood with glass insets, 10½ x 9, 26.67 x 22.86 cm
Museum purchase, 1959.532

For the peoples of the Northwest Coast and Alaska, masked dances have long been a ritual focal point; the masks give form and life to powerful beings. One type of Haida mask was carved for ceremonies honoring chiefs and ancestors. The masks representing these personages had human faces, although it is not certain that they were actually portraits. This portrayal of a freckled Euro-American is unusual; it could have been a commission, or it could have been seen as a means of assuming a foreigner’s powers.

MORE DETAILS >
Artist Unknown (Lakota Sioux, late 19th/early 20th century),
Moccasins , n.d.,
hide, beads, 9 ¾ in.; 24.77 cm
Gift of Mrs. Joseph Norris, 1961.15.A-B

While tribes like the Cheyenne liked to incorporate bird and other animal figures into their moccasin decorations, the Lakota preferred abstract geometric patterns, sometimes said to represent clouds, lightning, or other natural phenomena.

MORE DETAILS >
Artist Unknown (American, Omaha, 19th century),
Jacket , ca. 1850,
hide, beads, silk, and bone, 29 x 18½ inches, 73.66 x 46.99 cm
Gift of Wilmuth V. Carpenter in memory of James Franklin Carpenter, 1985.3

This jacket is said to have belonged to Logan Fontenelle (1825-1855), a notable figure in Omaha Indian history. Fontenelle accompanied the 1854 Omaha delegation that signed the treaty establishing the Omaha reservation in Nebraska. While several stylistic features of his jacket seem early for 1850 the son of an active trader may have had a keen interest in and access to new imported goods and styles before they were commonly available.

MORE DETAILS >
Artist Unknown (American, Navajo, 19th century),
Serape , ca. 1870–75,
wool, 70 x 51 inches, 177.8 x 129.54 cm
Gift of Mrs. A. H. Richardson, 1956.90

The serape, a universal garment of the Navajo worn around the shoulders, is particularly striking with its diamond lattice and bi-color crosses. The white is the natural wool, the green probably from a yellow plant dye combined with indigo, and the red likely a yarn painstakingly respun from imported scarlet cloth.

MORE DETAILS >
Harrison Begay (Haskay Yahne Yah) (American, Navajo, born 1917),
Untitled (Scene from Enemyway Ceremony) , ca. 1960,
tempera on paper, 22 3/8 x 30 1/2, 56.83 x 77.47 cm
Museum purchase with funds provided by Collector's Choice V, 1992.24

Harrison Begay focuses on portryals of traditional Navajo life. His distinctive paintings are characterized by a delicacy of line and color, simple but realistic detail, and a sense of warm serenity.

MORE DETAILS >
Teri Greeves (Dat tsa Ma) (Kiowa, born 1970),
High-top Tennis Shoes , 1995,
Converse All Stars, beads, 6 ½ x 4 x 12 3/8 in.; 16.51 x 10.16 x 31.43 cm
Museum purchase, 1996.24.A-B

Greeves’ Converse high-tops are a modern variation of old themes. Her lively horse and foal recall but do not replicate the pictorial art of her Plains ancestors. The choice of tennis shoes rather than hide moccasins reflects contemporary fashion and utility.

MORE DETAILS >
Bob Haozous (Chiricahua Apache, born 1943),
Portable Pueblo , 1988,
steel, 94 x 101 x 33 in.; 238.76 x 256.54 x 83.82 cm
Museum purchase with funds from Collectors' Choice 1990 and a National Endowment for the Arts Purchase, 1990.40

Portable Pueblo
includes several popular, immediately recognizable symbols of the Southwest: the characteristic shapes of stone and adobe Pueblo villages; cacti; mountain peaks; fluffy clouds. Buzzing through and above them are cars and airplanes, carrying the tourists who flock to this scenic region. Although Haozous seems to be primarily poking fun at acquisitive, non-Native visitors, Portable Pueblo is also a silent criticism of Native artists and artisans who contribute to the perpetuation of the Western stereotype.

MORE DETAILS >
Allan Houser (Chiricahua Apache, 1914–1994),
Peaceful Serenity , 1992/fabricated 1998,
bronze, 76 x 40 ½ x 23 ½ in.; 193.04 x 102.87 x 59.69 cm
Gift of Eve and Fred Simon, 2000.22

Houser was equally accomplished whether working with stone or bronze. His subjects were always Native American, but his themes, like the maternal warmth of Peaceful Serenity, are often universal. Houser’s sculptures range from completely realist to highly abstract, but his instantly identifiable signature style is a sinuous, elegant semi-abstraction of form, typified in Peaceful Serenity. 

MORE DETAILS >
Oscar Howe (American, Yanktonai Nakota (Sioux), 1915-1983),
The Origin of Corn , 1949,
tempera on paper, 21 3/8 x 29 3/8 in.
Gift of Morton Steinhart, 1949.180

Howe is one of the most widely recognized and respected of all twentieth-century Native American painters. Among his important early works are a number of commissioned murals. The Origin of Corn is a design study for one of these, installed first at Steinhart Lodge in a Nebraska City park and subsequently moved to the town’s City Hall. The subject reflects Howe’s lifelong dedication to sharing the rich oral traditions of Sioux culture: a young man, representing his tribe, ceremonially welcomes a new plant given by the spirits to benefit the people.

MORE DETAILS >
Oscar Howe (Yanktonai Nakota (Sioux), 1915–1983),
Sioux Boat Race , 1955 ,
tempera on paper, 12 3/16 x 22 ¾ in.; 30.96 x 57.79 cm
Museum purchase, 1955.374

Although Howe later created a unique abstract approach, he also painted periodically in the Studio style throughout his career. His subject matter as a mature artist was always drawn from his Sioux heritage, much of it from the stories told to him by his grandmother, Shell Face.

MORE DETAILS >
Oscar Howe (Yanktonai Nakota (Sioux), 1915–1983),
War Dancer , ca. 1959,
tempera on paper, 17 ¾ x 23 7/8 in.; 45.09 x 60.64 cm
Museum purchase, 1959.199

Howe was the first Indian painter to achieve national recognition, and his insistence on artistic freedom was an important precedent. A university-trained artist, Howe’s abstractions have been linked to Cubism. He denied this, describing his sources as entirely native, including tahokmu, the spider web.

MORE DETAILS >
Howling Wolf (Southern Cheyenne, 1849–1927),
Drawing Book , ca. 1875,
ink and watercolor on paper, 7 1/2 x 10 1/4 in.; 19.05 x 26.04 cm
Gift of Alexander M. Maish in memory of Anna Bourke Richardson, 1991.19

This artist, Howling Wolf, developed a distinctive style, unusual because it often incorporates landscape elements. The scene is a horse race. In a typical Plains approach to conveying time and action, the drawing shows the past and present simultaneously. At the upper left men fire guns to begin the race. Hoofprints show the path of the race, while the racers speed back to the starting point.

MORE DETAILS >
Mató-Tópe (Four Bears) (American, Mandan, ca. 1795–1837),
Battle with a Cheyenne Chief , 1833,
watercolor and pencil on paper, 12 3/8 x 15 3/8 inches, 31.43 x 39.05 cm
Gift of Enron Art Foundation, 1986.49.384

Four Bears was one of the first Plains artists to show the clear influence of European style and media. Painted with materials given to him by artist Karl Bodmer and his patron, Prince Maximilian, Four Bears’ scene shows him wearing a warbonnet and wresting a knife from his enemy. Note the attention given to facial features and to hands and feet. Such particulars would have been considered extraneous by Four Bears’ contemporaries; they focused on other factors more important in identifying individuals, such as the distinctive shield carried by a particular warrior.

MORE DETAILS >
Jacquie Stevens (Winnebago, born 1949),
Jar , 1986,
clay, leather, beads, dentalium shell, height: 5 ½ in.; 13.97 cm; diameter: 5 ½ in.; 13.97 cm
Gift in memory of Wilmuth V. Carpenter, 1986.17

This white jar beautifully exemplifies Stevens’ approach to form and finish. The effect is one of great, almost ethereal delicacy, as if the piece were light enough to rise and float away.

MORE DETAILS >
Jacquie Stevens (Winnebago, born 1949),
Vessel , 1997,
clay, wicker, glass beads, Height: 10 ¼ in.; 26.04 cm
Commissioned and given in memory of Shirley Warden by her fellow doce, 1998.19

Stevens likes to add textural variety to her clay creations. The contrast provided by the added materials always draws attention to the pristine smoothness of the clay surface. In this case it also offers an opportunity for interesting shadow play, an effect that varies with the direction of the light and the position of the viewer.

MORE DETAILS >
Roxanne Swentzell (Santa Clara Pueblo, born 1962),
Transformation , 2000,
ceramic,
Museum purchase, 2000.26.a-n

Swentzell’s clay sculptures are reflections of the human spirit. She describes herself as a sculptor of emotions, and these are evident in Transformation. With her sculptures Swentzell shares her culture and declares a common humanity — she invites us to “Come, sit down, we aren’t that different, let me tell you something about us.”

MORE DETAILS >
White Horse (Kiowa, 1847–1892),
Drawing Book , 1876–78,
pencil and crayon on paper, 8 ¼ x 10 ½ in.; 20.96 x 26.67 cm
Gift of Mrs. J. Barlow Reynolds, 1949.165

White Horse was a legendary warrior who achieved high rank in his tribe by the age of twenty-three. In 1875, White Horse was imprisoned at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida.  While incarcerated there, he was among the prisoners who became artists in what would be called Ledger Art, for the ledgers they were drawn in.

MORE DETAILS >