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Engaging with Nature: American and Native American Artists (A.D. 1200-2004)

May 16, 2010 - September 25, 2011


The Montclair Art Museum (MAM) is presenting Engaging with Nature: American and Native American Artists (A.D. 1200-2004), an exhibition that explores a vast range of the Museum's permanent collection. It is the first exhibition ever presented by the Museum to integrate American and Native American art from the collection from all time periods and around a central theme. More than half of the nearly 40 works have never or rarely been displayed. The show opened May 16, 2010, and will remain on view through September 25, 2011. (right Kay WalkingStick (b. 1935), Night, 1994, Acrylic, wax, copper and oil on canvas diptych. Museum purchase; funds provided by Alberta Stout. Montclair Art Museum, 2000.10)

The works in the exhibition encompass an astonishing variety of art and artifacts, from prehistoric Native American ceramics to historical 19th-century landscape paintings to contemporary staged photographs, suggesting various conceptions of landscape and nature.

America's diverse geography is evoked in western landscapes by Thomas Moran, Philip Pearlstein, Charles Simonds, and Albert Lorey Groll, while New Jersey and the East are subjects of works by Charles Warren Eaton, Charles Burchfield, Dennis Oppenheim, and Montclair-born Lois Dodd. Also included are Native American works created from the land and plants that are often depicted in landscapes. Ancient vessels from the Puebloan cultures in the Southwest offer fine examples of prehistoric ceramics made for everyday use.

Imaginary landscapes are prevalent in the show, beginning with the expressive, dreamlike works of Ralph Albert Blakelock and James Lavadour, who, like George Inness, believed that nature was imbued with the mystical presence of divine forces. Imaginative, spiritual interpretations of nature are also evident in the work of Oscar Bluemner, Charles Burchfield, Dan Namingha, Kenzo Okada, Steve Grapber, and Emmi Whitehorse. Nature as a vehicle for exploring ancient, universal themes of ritual, magic, myth, and the origins of life fascinated Mark Rothko, Harry Fonseca, Tony Abeyta, and Kay WalkingStick.

Contemporary landscapes often challenge earlier, more literal or romanticized concepts of nature. In the 1970s, pioneering Earthwork artist Oppenheim created ephemeral manipulations of nature that exist only in the form of photo-documentations. More recently, Louise Lawler, Hiroshige Sugimoto, and Justine Kurland use photography as a medium to explore ideas of reality and illusion.


Wall labels from the exhibition

Roberts Gallery - Landscape/Seasons/Nature/ Spirituality
Thomas Moran (1837-1926)
Scene on the Snake River, ca. 1879
Oil on canvas
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William W. Skinner
In 1871 Thomas Moran, an urban artist who had never even ridden a horse, was a guest on Dr. Francis V. Hayden's government survey of the Yellowstone area. This trip launched his career as a romantic painter of the expansive, unsullied West. Scene on the Snake River captures the grandeur of the Teton Mountains in Northwestern Wyoming through soft, brilliant color and loose, exuberant brushwork. It is similar to Moran's large panoramas of the Grand Canyon and other sites by which the American public became familiar with the broad vistas and vast space of the American West. As in much of Moran's work, the figure is absent in this romanticized depiction of an unthreatening and beautiful wilderness.
Ralph Albert Blakelock (1847-1919)
Silvery Moonlight, ca. 1880-1895
Oil on canvas
Gift of William T. Evans
Initially working in a more literal manner, Blakelock turned away from realism during the 1870s as he embraced the influence of the 19th century French Barbizon School painters, who created broadly brushed landscapes based on personal interpretations of nature. From 1879 until his placement in a sanitarium for the insane in 1899, Blakelock's landscapes were not based on a specific site but rather on an imaginary place. He created some of his finest works, such as Silvery Moonlight, during this time of extreme instability for himself and his desperately impoverished family. He employed layers of swirling, expressive brush strokes with no defined edges to convey a recurring theme in his work -- the mystical glimmering of moonlight through a screen of leafy trees. The simplified forms, low horizon line, and sublime, dreamlike quality indicate that this work was created during Blakelock's late period when he, like George Inness, was influenced by the teachings of the Swedish mystic Emmanuel Swedenborg. This painting was donated by the museum's co-founder William T. Evans and was one of the first works to enter the collection.
Charles Warren Eaton (1857-1937)
The Strip of Pines, 1908
Oil on canvas
Gift of William T. Evans
Like many American artists of his generation, Eaton traveled to France, where he was introduced firsthand to 19th century French Barbizon painting, which exalted personal, broadly rendered interpretations of rural landscape. In 1889 he was discovered by George Inness -- not in New Jersey, where they both lived, but in their main studios in New York. Inness encouraged the younger artist's reverence for nature. Around a year earlier, Eaton had moved to Bloomfield from New York, seeing tranquility in suburbia. He observed," I seek the quietest possible places. Even a cow disturbs me." This attitude is reflected in his painting of a group of pine trees silhouetted against the sky, which emits a heavenly, golden glow. During his lifetime, Eaton was acclaimed for this type of Tonalist landscape, in which harmonious values of a single color prevail. This painting was donated by the museum's co-founder William T. Evans and was one of the earliest works to enter the collection.
Leon Dabo (1867-1960)
Sun and Mist, 1909
Oil on canvas
Gift of William T. Evans
An emigré from France, the Tonalist landscape painter Dabo closely aligned himself with James McNeill Whistler, working in the master's London studio in 1888. Sun and Mist demonstrates Dabo's masterful adaptation of the austere, subtle tonalities and vertical formats of Whistler's vertical Thames River nocturnes. This painting was donated by the museum's co-founder William T. Evans and was one of the earliest works to enter the collection.
Oscar Bluemner (1867-1938)
Lent Evening , 1932-33
Oil on board
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Arnold Miller
Initially an architect from Chicago, Bluemner decided to become a painter after seeing Cézanne's one-man show at Alfred Stieglitz's gallery "291" in New York in 1911. Bluemner felt a profound empathy with Cézanne's constant struggle to harmonize all pictorial elements into "the artistic whole." In Lent Evening, precise, simplified architectural forms indicative of Bluemner's exposure to the geometric shapes of the modern art movement known as Cubism are integrated into an unpopulated landscape. These constricted, overlapping forms are rendered in bold, non-naturalistic colors that suggest Bluemner's appreciation of the work of the Russian-born modern artist Wassily Kandinsky. This painting was created during the artist's residence in South Braintree, Massachusetts. Its title refers to Lent, the period of fasting and penitence from Ash Wednesday to Easter. It evokes the spiritual basis of Bluemner's abstract art, which he defined as "a new subjective reality of beauty and expression" that speaks "to the soul like a poem or music."
Albert Lorey Groll (1866-1952)
Laguna River, New Mexico, n.d.
Oil on canvas
Gift of William T. Evans
Albert Lorey Groll was born and raised in New York City, but spent several years in Europe studying art. He painted the landscape of the Atlantic coast and then headed west to Arizona in 1904 with ethnologist Professor Stuart Culin, who went west to write a paper about Indian games. While on this trip Groll was introduced to Lorenzo Hubbell, an Indian dealer who owned the Ganado Trading Post. One of the scenes Groll painted on that trip won a gold medal at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1906. After winning this award he wrote to Hubbell saying his western paintings, "have made a decided hit, both artistically and financially; in fact, my visit to the Southwest has been my lucky stars." In 1906, Groll visited New Mexico. The paintings done at the Laguna Pueblo of the vast landscape and towering clouds impressed the Indians so much that they called Groll Chief Bald-Head-Eagle Eye. He became known for his oil paintings that were sometimes abstract and sometimes mixed media with crayon and scuffed on to make a more textured surface. Although he maintained his studio in New York City and was well-known in the East, he frequently went painting out west to give his collectors the desert subject matter that was much sought after. His work was included in the San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition in 1915. This painting was donated by the museum's co-founder William T. Evans and was one of the first works to enter the collection.
Charles Burchfield (1893-1967)
Day in Midwinter, 1945
Gouache on paper
Museum purchase; Lang Acquisition Fund
Charles Burchfield was an innovative watercolorist best known for his imaginative, emotionally charged landscapes. Like Thoreau, whose writings inspired him, Burchfield saw nature as a source of spirituality, and was especially awed by the changing of the seasons. This watercolor is a view across the backyards from his studio in Gardenville, New York. Fresh snow dusts the tops of the wire fence and fenceposts, the rooftops, and the tree branches. The artist's lively brushwork animates the bare branches, making them seem alive, even in the dead of winter. Footprints in the snow and suggestions of blue shadows and yellow light also animate the composition.
Burchfield often recorded his emotional responses to the seasons:
I suddenly realized that today was a perfect ideal winter's day. The bright golden sunshine reflected in the glare of the snow covered fields, the calm cold air...and the silence of things -- all these consummated a perfect harmony of nature.
Hans Hofmann (1880-1966)
Early Fall, 1945
Oil, ink, and gouache on paper
Museum purchase; prior bequests of Marie T. Reisweber, Florence O.R. Lang, and Mrs. Frank L. Babbott
The German-born abstract painter Hans Hofmann was one of the greatest art teachers of the twentieth century. After a prolonged stay in Paris, where he met Matisse, Picasso, and other modern artists, Hofmann established the first school of modern artin Muncih in 1915. He settled in America in 1932, teaching at the Art Students League and founding his own school in New York the following year. The title of this work, Early Fall, is a poetic reference to the artist's experience of nature, always the starting point for Hofmann's art. The push and pull of the various forms and colors create a vibrant, energetic surface evocative of the hues and rhythms of autumn. Hofmann's pioneering use of a spontaneous drip technique stems from his experiments with poured paint since 1939. His use of the technique, employed by the Surrealists to express the impulses of the subconscious mind, may have influenced young Jackson Pollock.
Mark Rothko (1903-1970)
Implements of Magic, ca. 1945
Watercolor on paper
Museum purchase; partial gift of Jeannette and Charles Gehrie and Acquisition Fund
Like many other members of the burgeoning New York School, Mark Rothko shared Adolph Gottlieb's interest in Surrealism and mythic imagery during the 1940s. Rothko adopted the Surrealist technique of automatic drawing which allows the artist to freely express ideas as they emerge from his subconscious mind, often as biomorphic shapes and pictographic symbols. Implements of Magic is one of a series of mid-1940s watercolors exploring universal themes of ritual, magic, myth, and sacrifice. Abstracted, primitive-looking organisms appear to float amidst geological strata indicated by three earth-colored, horizontal bands suggesting a landscape. Evoking Native American and African culture, these primeval elements convey the artist's fascination with the origins of life. Not tied to any specific mythology, this watercolor suggests Rothko's interest in the timeless spirit of myth, and the universal, spiritual power of tribal art.
B.J.O Nordfeldt, (1878-1955)
Flight, 1949
Oil on canvas
Museum Purchase; Blanche R. Pleasants Fund
The Swedish-born Expressionist B.J.O. Nordfeldt was one of the first American artists to adapt the Post-Impressionist style of Paul Cézanne. Nordfeldt's expressive use of color with the structural formations and angular brushwork learned through the study and admiration of Cézanne is evident even in this late work created during his residence in Lambertville, New Jersey. In the latter half of Nordfeldt's well-traveled career, the artist began to strip down his style to more basic forms and placed emphasis on the repetitive elements of natural patterns. This can particularly be noted in Nordfeldt's marine paintings, which had been a staple of the artist's career. Nordfeldt explained his interest in the sea stating that he was "interested in the nature of water ­ its fluidity, its weight and strength". While Nordfeldt had continually attempted to depict these ideas, there is a sense of loneliness and depth that can also be attributed to the artist's longing for a solitary lifestyle while at his New Jersey farm. The vigorously painted Flight conveys Nordfeldt's overarching desire to express the powerful forces of nature and culture that can be felt from coast to coast. It was likely inspired by the rugged coast north of San Francisco and exemplifies the artist's keen powers of observation and vivid imagination.
Kenzo Okada (1902-1982)
Moon is Down, 1950
Oil on canvas
Museum purchase; Mr. and Mrs. S. Barksdale Penick, Jr. Fund
Born in Yokohama, Japan, Kenzo Okada moved to New York in 1950 where he was closely associated with Abstract Expressionism, a movement that stressed the physical act of non-representational painting as a means of personal expression. This frequently overlooked artist painted intuitively, using meditation to invite creativity directly from his subconscious. In Moon is Down, Okada blended Eastern and Western techniques, revealing the poetic essence of the natural world through painterly abstraction. He incorporates the suggestion of a flowering branch reaching into the picture, a popular theme in Asian nature painting. The flattened space, subtle colors, and emphasis on brushwork characteristic of Abstract Expressionism had long been present in Japanese art. Okada bridged both traditions, applying the larger format, abstracted forms, and energized surfaces of Abstract Expressionism to his evocative and moody subject matter.
Dennis Oppenheim (b. 1938)
Identity Stretch, 1970-75
One-panel photo documentation, photo reproduction and collage elements
Gift of Dennis Oppenheim
Dennis Oppenheim emerged as a pioneer of Earth art in the counter-culture of the late 1960s. He has observed that this movement affected the art system by questioning the physicality and collectability of a work_as artists sought to demystify art by removing it from gallery and museum contexts and embedding it in the environment. The ephemerality of Earth art was unconventional, as was Oppenheim's reliance on photography as the only means of documenting his artistic acts. Identity Stretch documents an earthwork created for ArtPark in Lewiston, New York. It consisted of two gigantic, overlapping and elongated thumbprints etched in tar upon a large, barren field. Although the fingerprints, shown in aerial views, resemble an anonymous map, they were actually the marks of Oppenheim and his son Erik. They have thus been interpreted as the artist's transcendent attempt to genetically project himself through time and space with his child's fingerprint as an agent of immortality. The enlarged scale of the fingerprints literally evokes the idea of the artist and his son making their marks on the world.
Lois Dodd (b. 1927)
Broken Window, New Jersey, 1975
Oil on canvas
Museum purchase; prior gifts of Ethan D. Alyea, Mrs. George Welwood Murray, Joseph Van Vleck and Acquisition Fund
Born in Montclair, New Jersey, Lois Dodd lives and works primarily in Cushing, Maine. She is known for her unique fusion of abstraction and figuration in paintings, such as this work which combines her favorite themes -- landscape and the window as an abstract framing device. Dodd created this painting near Blairstown, New Jersey where she formerly owned a home. She has recalled that the window "was in a small cottage slated for removal by the Park Service as part of the project clearing the land to establish the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area." She found this vandalized cottage in the fall and used to store her painting in it while she was working on it. At one point she let the door slam, the glass broke, and she had to prop up the pane that fell out -- as if making her own still life. Dodd was fascinated with the interplay of reality (the New Jersey landscape) and illusion (the reflections of it).
Philip Pearlstein (b. 1924)
Mummy Cave, Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, 1978
Sepia wash on paper
Gift of Philip Pearlstein
From the 1950s onward, rock, mountainsides, stone ruins, and hillside towns fascinated Philip Pearlstein, better known for his paintings of cropped nudes. Starting in 1975, with a commission from the U.S. Department of the Interior, Pearlstein traveled to the Southwest to make art celebrating the upcoming Bicentennial. The dramatic sheer wall of the Mummy Cave, Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, is one of the most sacred sites of the Navajo nation, which covers territory in the states of Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. Pearlstein's carefully executed, cropped view is rendered in sepia (a pigment made from "ink" sacs of cuttlefish), with a brownish tone appropriate for a desert scene and ancient, timeless structures. The earliest ruins in the caves in the side of this canyon date from 300-400 CE, while the remaining structures seen in this drawing's two hollows were built in the 13th century, when the Anasazi people constructed their elaborate Cliffside dwellings. The ruins were given their present name from two mummified bodies, still wrapped in fiber made from the yucca plant, that were found by an archeological expedition in 1882. Pearlstein has noted that the overall composition, while a landscape, takes on the appearance of a mask: a head with a fringe of hair at the top, two dark eyes (where the ruins cluster), and intimations of a nose and mouth at the center.
Louise Lawler (b. 1947)
16, 1985
Cibachrome print on museum mount
Museum purchase; Acquisition Fund
Louise Lawler's photographs explore how the meaning of a work of art is shaped by the context in which it is presented. As she explains, "My pictures present information about the reception of artworks." In 16, Lawler features an Andy Warhol painting of 1962 from his paint-by-number series Do It Yourself (Landscape), which hangs in the Museum Ludwig in Koln, Germany. Warhol's Pop art series was symbolic of mechanical performance and mass culture, suggesting that the creation of a landscape or any kind of painting is as easy as coloring in the numbered areas. Lawler takes this idea one step further by making her artwork a photograph of Warhol's work. Only a portion of the painting is visible, as Lawler gives nearly equal weight to the painted wall on which it is hung and its accompanying label--all elements imposed on an artwork after it leaves the artist's studio. The label is centered prominently, reminding us that what is written about a work of art often colors our perception of that work.
Hiroshi Sugimoto (b. 1948)
Gorilla, 1994
Gelatin silver print
Museum purchase; prior bequests of Fred E. Munchenheim and Mary Drake Peters and Acquisition Fund
Japanese-born Hiroshi Sugimoto is a conceptual artist who uses black and white photography to explore ideas of time and space, reality and illusion. Using lengthy exposures and meticulous printing techniques, Sugimoto creates high-quality photographs that are often more complex than they first appear. Initially startling, Gorilla invites the viewer to question the plausibility of the scene. How did the photographer get so close to such a dramatic and dangerous subject? The vines and foliage seem to grow out of nowhere and the mountain looks like a movie backdrop. This picture is in fact a photograph of a diorama, taken at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. By making the fake/artificial appear so real, Sugimoto challenges the viewer's concept of what is real and what is an illusion.
Charles Simonds (b. 1945)
Abandoned Ritual Place, 2001
Clay, plaster, and wood
Museum purchase; Acquisition Fund
Charles Simonds's meticulous clay constructions are rooted in Simonds's fascination with the architecture and rituals of Pueblo Indians encountered on childhood trips to New Mexico. From 1969 to 1983 he returned to this area and witnessed the Shalako dances of the Zuni Indians. Simonds's interests in archaeology and Body and Earth Art converged in his sculpture, and he developed a reputation for his ephemeral, archaeologically inspired "Dwellings" placed in the walls, nooks, and crannies of dilapidated buildings in New York City.
Simonds refers to the former inhabitants of these empty, abandoned dwellings as an imaginary group of migrating "Little People." The world of the "Little People" is "a peaceful world without constraint.... Each Dwelling is a different scene from [their] lives. They have particular beliefs which form, or inform, that space." Carefully built brick by brick with small chambers and towers, Simonds's sculptures engage the child in everyone.
Steve Graber (b. 1950)
Pelagia, 2003
Charcoal and watercolor on paper
Gift of Io and George Gaitanaris
Based on a farm in Baldwin City, Kansas, Steve Graber creates sublime imaginary landscapes that make viewers wonder about the location and circumstances of the places he depicts. Educated as a historian, the self-taught Graber served in the United States Navy before beginning his art career at age 32. He has a pilot's license and incorporates aerial perspectives into his works on paper which often feature sensuous cloud formations, as in Pelagia. The title of this work and the landscape are both invented:
It's all out of my head...the titles are the product of free association. I was in an Italian mood and invented that title. My goal is to convey a sense of timelessness and peace. There is always an interaction of atmosphere and earth, where worlds meet spiritually as well as geographically. This particular work is the first I ever did in a square format; it just evolved that way naturally and I have continued to work with it.
Early on the 19th century American landscape painter George Inness was an inspiration for Graber: "That one room in the Art Institute of Chicago, I practically pitched a tent in there. Inness was an important guide for me -- his use of light more than anything." The work of the Tonalist and Inness follower Dwight Tryon (in MAM's collection as well) was also influential.
Justine Kurland (b. 1969)
Peach Tree, 2002
Chromogenic print
Edition 4/8
Gift of Patricia A. Bell
A resident of New York City, Justine Kurland received a Master of Fine Arts from Yale University, where she studied with photographers Gregory Crewsden and Philip Lorca di Corcia. Kurland's works are based on her travels to isolated rural communities across America, including communes out west and in Florida. In these works she explores fundamental dichotomies of humanity vs. nature, the individual vs. community, private vs. public. According to Kurland:
The naked figures in the color photographs have willingly undressed. They represent perfect beings heroically occupying their Edens, or else gardeners after the Fall, lost and exposed to both the elements and the lens.... In [some] cases the subjects perform quasi-biblical narratives or ritual acts as they elaborate fantasies of communal living and communion with nature. And sometimes it is the natural landscape that dominates, swelling to engulf the figures who inhabit it. The photographs are shared acts of faith, romantic gestures impelling us towards a transcendental experience of being human in the world.
Justine Kurland (b. 1969)
Battlefield, 2001
Satin-finished UV-laminated C-print
Gift of Patricia A. Bell
A resident of New York City, Justine Kurland received a B.F.A. from the School of Visual Arts and a Masters of Fine Art from Yale University, where she studied with photographers Gregory Crewsden and Philip Lorca di Corcia. Her staged photographs of carefully posed figures are based on travels to isolated rural communities across America. Clothed rather than nude as in many of Kurland's works, the prone figures in Battlefield evoke a universal horror of war that has been the subject of many important works of art throughout history. Without the title to suggest this interpretation, however, they might also evoke a state of meditation and communion with nature.
Harry Fonseca (1946-2006)
Nisenan, Maidu, Hawaiian, Portuguese
Maidu Creation Story, 1998
Acrylic on canvas
Museum purchase; Acquisition Fund
Harry Fonseca has always explored a diverse imagery from tribal myths to rock art, the figure of Coyote, the trickster in Maidu stories, to St. Francis. Fonseca, a renowned painter, explores the conceptual and painterly qualities of Abstract Expressionism in his work. Maidu Creation Story is the visual image of the oral history of the Maidu people as told by his uncle, Henry Azbill. Using petroglyphic images reminiscent of the ancient rock art found in Cosco Mountain Range in the high desert country in California, Fonseca gives visual form to myth as he explores his connection between the past and the present. This is the illustrated story of Helinmaideh, the Big Man or God, who, according to Maidu myth, was responsible for creating the world and all of its inhabitants.
Kay WalkingStick (b. 1935)
Night, 1991
Acrylic, wax, copper and oil on canvas
Museum purchase; funds provided by Alberta Stout
Kay WalkingStick is of Native American ancestry- Cherokee and Winnebago. She was born in Syracuse, New York, and earned a BFA degree at Beaver College and an MFA at Pratt Institute. Much of her work deals with the duality in contemporary Native American life. She often uses diptychs as a way of unifying this duality. In Night, the two portions represent two kinds of knowledge of the earth. One is visual, a memory of a streambed near Tucson, Arizona, and the other is more spiritual. This painting is not a literal landscape, but the artist's view of the earth and its sacred quality. The inclusion of copper in the mythic or spiritual side relates to the copper lodes in the mountains that were invaded by miners, who had a negative impact on the lives and land of the native peoples.
Dan Namingha, (b. 1950)
Southwest, Tewa-Hopi
Passage Series II, 1997
Oil, sand, and collage elements on canvas
Museum purchase; prior gifts of Catherine W. Faucon and Mr. and Mrs. Willard Church
Dan Namingha is an American abstract artist who draws deeply on his Tewa-Hopi heritage for references, often focusing on the ceremonies, architecture, and landscape of the Hopi culture. Namingha was born on the Hopi reservation and raised in the village of Polacca. His great-great-grandmother was the famed potter Nampeyo, who revived the Hopi pottery tradition by adapting ancient designs known as Sityatki. In Passage Series II Namingha exhibits his knowledge of traditional culture combined with a profound knowledge of traditional culture combined with a profound understanding of modern art. Concerned with the ideas of duality and fragmentation, this work represents a window of passageway from the physical world into the spiritual world of the Hopi, reflecting both the ancient Hopi world and contemporary society.
In this work, images of sacred messengers, known as "katsinas," and other sacred symbols are suspended within the passageway and act as intermediaries between the spiritual and physical worlds. The fragmented katsina images give the viewer only a glimpse into the sacred world. The image on the left is a partial representation of Palhik Mana, or the Butterfly Maiden. Her headdress, or tablita, represents the clouds. To the right of this image is a black dot with a white border which represents the eye of another katsina. The black-and-white vertical line represents rain; the horizontal black line represents another version of a katsina's eye. The black slender contour-line figure and the white curved image in the center of the painting is another version of the Butterfly Maiden. The red spirals represent migration, or the center of the world. The outside border of the painting consists of sand, which reflects the idea of the physical homeland of the Hopi.
James Lavadour (b. 1951)
Plateau, Walla Walla
Hunter, 2004
Oil on wood
Museum purchase; Acquisition Fund
James Lavadour is a self-taught artist. Growing up on the Umatilla Indian Reservation in northeastern Oregon, he learned to draw from his mother and developed a passion for nature from time spent in the wilderness with his father and uncle. Together these influences have weighed heavily on the style and development of Lavadour as a painter. While his work has been compared to landscape painters of the nineteenth century, with their thickly layered, sublime scenes, Lavadour prefers to liken his works to "elements of nature, vessels for the human experience, and art as a spirit of light that can help bring illumination to the community." Lavadour says he "is not concerned about what a painting means, I only care about what it does and how it does it." These statements reflect his view that the act of creating and the act of walking on the earth are sacred, organic forces. He believes that just as nature is endowed with life and energy, the same is true for what we know about art, regardless of form.
Tony Abeyta (b. 1965)
Southwest, Navajo
Hunters' Procession, 1995
Oil and sand on canvas
Museum purchase; prior gifts of Russel T. Mount, E. and A. Silberman, Mrs. Charles C. Griswold, and Acquisition Fund
1996.10 A-B
Tony Abeyta's work celebrates the richness and beauty found in Native American myth and religion. He often mixes sand in his oils, and builds up the paint on the canvas in a richly textured mass. His use of bold color and gilt gives a sculptural quality to the work and captures the landscape of the Southwest. According to Abeyta, "If the paintings are successful, they should communicate a powerful force, a feeling that is contained in all of us." This work deals with some of the rituals and beliefs that surround the hunt in native cultures.
Emmi Whitehorse (b. 1956)
Southwest, Navajo
Blackwater, 1999
Oil on paper mounted on canvas
Gift of Hinrich Peiper and Dorothee Peiper-Riegraf in memory of Arlene LewAllen (1941-2002)
Whitehorse's art integrated her Navajo background with abstract forms, shapes, and color. Her work is often compared to artist Paul Klee's because of her free association with imagery, fantasy, and her approach to pictographic forms. Black Water is a fine example of her interest in "unseen energy and nature." According to Whitehorse, "my work deals with recreating worlds remembered. It is never ending because I am constantly re-designing, re-placing, re-building it with personal images and concepts. I am always trying to bridge the future with the old -- a compromise between tradition and futurity."
G. Peter Jemison (b. 1945)
Cattaraugus Seneca
Snowball Shadows, 2001
20 x 26 inches
Color lithograph
Museum purchase; Acquisition Fund
Jemison is known for his works of art that reflect his relationship with the natural world. Known for his naturalistic paintings, his work embodies the traditional Haudenosaunee belief of orenda, that every living thing and every part of creation contains a spiritual force. This work demonstrates his relationship with the natural order of the seasons, in this case winter and the delicate plants that announce the arrival of warmer weather in the cycle of the seasons.
Kay WalkingStick (b. 1935)
Night Magic, 2001
Color lithograph
Museum purchase; Acquisition Fund
Kay WalkingStick recently observed the following about this print:
I wanted the piece to directly relate to Tucson, so I used photos I had taken of the mountains there, as the basis for the landscape. The joyful dancing figures, and the golden four directions crosses represent our joy in living on this beautiful planet. That is simply the joy of being. Dancing is an expression of our pleasure in one another, our own bodies and ourselves in the world. How primal is that?
These three ceramics in one case:
Olla, ca. 1200 AD
Early Anasazi
Clay, pigment
Gift of Mrs. Henry Lang in memory of her mother, Mrs. Jasper R. Rand
Bowl, ca. 1250-1300AD
Southwest, Salado
Clay, pigment
Bequest of M. Anne Chapman
Pitcher, ca. 1200 AD
Ancestral Puebloan
Clay, pigment
Gift of Miss Alice Allan
These prehistoric ceramics are fine examples of the type of pottery one would find in Charles Simmonds's Abandoned Ritual Place, 2001. Made from the clay and pigment of the area, these ceramics were made for everyday use.
These three items in one case:
Socks, ca. 1900
Arctic, Inuit
Gift of Mrs. Henry Lang in memory of her mother,
Mrs. Jasper R. Rand
1931.820 A & B
Mukluks, ca. 1976
Arctic, Yupik Eskimo
Sealskin, wolverine fur, felt, glassbeads
Gift of Barbara and Milton Lipton
Children's Moccasins, ca. 1890
Arctic, Inuit
Sealskin and hide
Gift of Mrs. Henry Lang in memory of her mother,
Mrs. Jasper R. Rand
These items would be worn in the chilly arctic to protect one's feet from the snow and ice. The socks, made from native grasses, were worn inside the boots to absorb moisture and help protect the feet from freezing. These native snow boots are similar to the kind we would wear if we were walking the area depicted in Burchfield's Day in Midwinter, 1945.
These three baskets in one case:
Basket, ca. 1900-1910
California, Pomo
Grasses, mallard feathers, clamshell beads, meadow
lark feathers, quail feathers, abalone
Gift of Mrs. Henry Lang in memory of her mother,
Mrs. Jasper R. Rand
Basket, ca. 1910
California, Pomo
Vegetable fiber, mallard feathers, meadowlark feathers, clamshell, quail feathers, abalone
Gift of Mrs. Henry Lang in memory of her mother, Mrs. Jasper R. Rand
Feather or "jewel" baskets represent the height of Pomo basketry. These finely-made and highly ornamented baskets functioned as gifts or were used as mortuary offerings in cremation fires. The designs are worked entirely in colored feathers inserted under each stitch as the basket was constructed. They were intended to be displayed hung from the ceiling of a home.
Basket, ca. 1910
California, Shasta
Vegetable fiber, mallard feathers
Gift of Mrs. Henry Lang in memory of her mother,
Mrs. Jasper R. Rand
This unusual feathered basket was probably part of a Shasta doctor's kit, which would also have included coyote, fox, and wolf pelts, otter skins, eagle feathers, and a pipe and paint. Among the Shasta, doctors were nearly always women. Nightmares were the first indication of doctoring ability, and the doctoring power came to the dreamer during a trance. It could take years to acquire the paraphernalia one needed as a doctor.
The Shasta are a small group living in northern California. By the 1870s, the Gold Rush had forced them from their fisheries, hunting grounds, and homes. By the mid-1970s, their knowledge of their own indigenous culture was practically nonexistent. This basket was brought early in the last century by the dealer Grace Nicholson and sold to the Montclair Art Museum's founder, Mrs. Henry Lang. a letter from Nicholson to Lang indicated that it had been owned by a doctor.

(above: Charles Simonds (b. 1945), Abandoned Ritual Place, 2001, Clay, plaster, and wood. Museum purchase; Acquisition Fund. Montclair Art Museum, 2008.1)


(above: Children's Moccasins, ca. 1890, Arctic, Inuit , Sealskin and hide. Gift of Mrs. Henry Lang in memory of her mother, Mrs. Jasper R. Rand. Montclair Art Museum, 1931.824a-b)


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