Editor's note: The New Orleans Museum of Art provided source material to Resource Library for the following article. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact New Orleans Museum of Art directly through either this phone number or web address:


Blue Winds Dancing: The Whitecloud Collection of Native American Art

November 10, 2007 - February 17, 2008


Unique traditions, culture, and creativity from the original creators of American Art are captured in one remarkable art collection and celebrated in the exhibition Blue Winds Dancing: The Whitecloud Collection of Native American Art. The exhibition includes over 400 objects, collected over the last thirty years by Dr. Thomas and Mercedes Whitecloud, which depict the stories and legacies connecting generations of Native Peoples. Organized by the New Orleans Museum of Art, Blue Winds Dancing will be on display November 10, 2007 through February 17, 2008. (right: Mask, Rose Langley Medford, Coushatta, circa 1980, Pine needles, raffia; Promised Gift of Mercedes Whitecloud; Fanner Basket, Ronald Langley, Coushatta, contemporary, Split river cane and commercial dye; Promised Gift of Mercedes Whitecloud; Large Turtle Basket with Lid, Edna Lorena Langley, Coushatta, circa 1980, Pine needles, pine cones; Collection of Renée Whitecloud)

Many different cultures and all major regions of the United States are represented in Blue Winds Dancing, with the strongest focus on the Southern Woodlands, and also the Great Lakes, the traditional home of the Chippewa peoples.

Rather than focusing only on ancient objects, the Whitecloud Collection reflects harmony between historical and contemporary pieces. "It is equally split between objects made in the historical period and objects made by contemporary Native American artists," said Paul Tarver, NOMA's Curator of Native American Art. "The exhibition offers a diverse look at the arts of Native North Americans including beadwork, sculpture, pottery, jewelry, baskets, painted objects, and textiles. Every object tells a story in Blue Winds Dancing, providing a connection to past, present, and future generations."

Respect for traditions passed from generation to generation is of specific importance in Native American culture and evident in the Whitecloud's collection, particularly in traditions passed from mother to daughter. "A number of objects were made by men," says Tarver, "but in the Whitecloud Collection, 95% were made by Native American women." Evidence of this is present in a room dedicated to a Chitimacha family, the Dardens, who have been making baskets for eight generations. The Darden women passed their skills and techniques from generation to generation. (left: Shoulder Pouch, circa 1780, Chippewa Peoples, Black-dyed buckskin, natural and dyed porcupine quills, dyed deer hair, metal cones; Collection of the New Orleans Museum of Art, Gift of Mercedes Whitecloud in memory of Dr. Thomas St. Germain Whitecloud III. Photo by Judy Cooper.)

"The exhibition focuses on two themes: Sacred Imagery & Ritual Objects and Secular Objects & Enduring Traditions," says Tarver. A journey through the exhibition reveals how Native American spirituality and mythology are reflected in the arts. Objects include beautifully carved wood sculpture and stone pipes, and elaborately beaded and quilled objects such as bandoleer bags, moccasins and pipe bags. An extraordinary example of an ordinary object endowed with spirituality is an Eastern Chippewa buckskin and porcupine quill pouch (18th century). The front of the pouch depicts a quilled image of a thunderbird, a mythical spirit being. The pouch is functional, but the thunderbird symbol is sacred. The design of the pouch may have come from European soldiers who used a similarly styled pouch to carry gunpowder. However, the design and decoration for the Chippewa pouch suggests its purpose served more of a ritual function.

The objects in the Whitecloud Collection have a power photographs and words can only begin to describe. Seeing these objects up-close in the exhibition is a testament to the strength of craftsmanship and artistry in Native American art. The exhibition provides a visual narrative that communicates a power and strength of a culture with many enduring traditions.

Demonstrating the rich and powerful aesthetic traditions evident in Native American art, the exhibition also includes objects created by contemporary artists. "One of the things that is unique about our collection is the fact that we collect artifacts as well as contemporary pieces," says Mercedes. "We have a strong identity with enduring traditions." Artists such as the Plains bead-workers Joyce and Juanita Growing Thunder and the Choctaw bead-worker Jerry Ingram demonstrate that Native American traditions are alive and thriving. Traditional beaded and quilled items, such as clothing, dolls and horse masks, as well as new approaches to ceramics, jewelry and easel painting are included in Blue Winds Dancing.


About Dr. Thomas and Mercedes Whitecloud

Sharing the culture and creativity of Native American regions across the United States and Canada, Blue Winds Dancing: The Whitecloud Collection of Native American Art is the story of one family's dedication to preserving and collecting Native American art and culture from generation to generation. Organized by the New Orleans Museum of Art, Blue Winds Dancing will be on display November 10, 2007 through February 17, 2008.

The art of storytelling is integral to Native American culture, and there are no better stories than those told through the objects in the collection of Thomas St. Germain Whitecloud, III (1940- 2003), and his wife, Mercedes. A lifetime's worth of collecting extraordinary objects is reflected in this collection which not only shares the tastes and world views of the Whiteclouds, but also their individual backgrounds and passions. More than storytellers, the Whiteclouds are modern-day legend keepers, upholding the dignity and honoring the spirit of Native American cultures in their collection.

"The Whitecloud Collection is particularly unique because it is a private collection put together with Native American eyes," says Paul Tarver, Curator of Native American Art at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Though born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Tom Whitecloud was of Chippewa descent with ancestry from the Lac De Flambeau reservation in Wisconsin (the French translation meaning "lake of the flaming torches" given by fur traders who discovered Chippewa Indians fishing by torchlight at night from their birchbark canoes). He was a faculty member in the Department of Orthopaedics at the Tulane University School of Medicine from 1972 and was Chair of Orthopaedic Surgery from 1991 until his death. He was a pioneer in Orthopaedic surgery and his interest in medicine was evident even as a child when he assisted his father (Dr. Thomas St. Germain Whitecloud, II.) in surgery. As a champion of diversity, Tom was also a charter member of the Association of American Indian Physicians and was President of the Association in 1981. (right: Pipe Bowl with Human Head and Beaver, circa 1820-25, Chippewa Peoples, Catlinite; Promised Gift of Mercedes Whitecloud)

Tom married Mercedes Bordelon in 1965; in 1967 they began collecting Native American art together. Mercedes's passion and expertise is in Native American basketry, with particular emphasis on Southeastern baskets. Originally of Abbeville, Louisiana, Mercedes has had a lifelong interest in textiles and baskets. She brings to the exhibition a collection of over 225 baskets, 80 of which are from Louisiana Chitimacha basketmakers; the largest number of Chitimacha baskets ever to be exhibited in a museum. The Louisiana Chitimacha baskets mark a milestone for NOMA and the Southern region as they represent some of the most advanced and beautiful baskets in North America.

Tom began collecting Native American art as early as 1950 while traveling across the United States with his parents. The exhibition, Blue Winds Dancing, celebrates the generous gift of the Whitecloud Collection to the New Orleans Museum of Art and commemorates the life and achievements of Dr. Thomas St. Germain Whitecloud, III. Their collection includes works of art from over 30 indiginous cultures spanning the North American continent.

"Native American peoples have this tremendous range of materials because they used whatever was indigenous," said Mercedes. "It gives a marvelous range and depth to the basketry culture." Not limited to the basketry culture, the Whitecloud Collection also represents the richness and diversity of objects found all across the North American continent.

Unlike many art collections, the Whitecloud Collection is not based merely on its value, but the personality, character and history of the individual items. Blue Winds Dancing includes works of art from baskets to jewelry, original clothing to quillwork and pottery to sculpture. Over 400 remarkable objects collected over the last thirty years will be on display, each telling a different story from generations of Native Peoples.

Please click here to view the exhibition checklist.


Editor's note: RL readers may also enjoy:

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the New Orleans Museum of Art in Resource Library.

Visit the Table of Contents for Resource Library.for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2007 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.