Autry Museum of Western Heritage

Los Angeles, California


photo, ©1999 John Hazeltine



Powerful Images: Portrayals of Native America


For many, the term American Indian brings to mind a warrior on horseback, eagle feather bonnet streaming behind him as he rides at full gallop across the Western Plains. That image is one of the stereotypes a new exhibition at the Autry hopes to dispel. Powerful Images: Portrayals of Native America, a thought-provoking multimedia exhibition about the perceptions and stereotypes surrounding Native American images in cultural history, opens to the public February 20, 1999 and extends through May 16, 1999.

The exhibition and its North American presentation are made possible by Ford Motor Company. Additional support has been provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Rockefeller Foundation. The exhibition compares the popular images of Native Americans in mainstream literature, art, film, and advertising with how Native Americans represent themselves through their own artistic traditions. Materials range from paintings and sculptures to children's toys and neon signs.

"Ford Motor Company is proud to sponsor Powerful Images: Portrayals of Native America. This unique presentation of Native American images will help foster a better understanding of Native Americans. We salute the Museums West Consortium for organizing this exhibition and appreciate the contributions and support received from the Native Americans who have contributed their works of art for the enlightenment of all museum goers," said Peter Pestillo, Executive Vice President, Corporate Relations, Ford Motor Company.

Powerful Images was created by Museums West, a consortium of ten of the largest and most prominent Western museums working together to share resources and efforts in furthering their institutional goals. It is the organization's first exhibit to combine collections and interpretive efforts in providing an exhibition that will travel to most of the member institutions. Significant artifacts and art have been drawn together from the unmatched collections of the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, The Heard Museum, the Glenbow Museum, the Gilcrease Museum, and the Eiteljorg Museum.

Powerful Images is the outcome of the combined planning and development efforts of native and non-native curators, educators and commentators. Within the exhibit, images and voices from native peoples are seen and heard, providing commentary on the powerful images created by their cultures and by the outsiders who have observed them. The result is a presentation that is broad, showing the complexity and variety of native peoples and contrasting this with the often one-sided views of outsiders. Visitors themselves will bring a wide range of stereotypes with them as they visit the exhibition. It is an express purpose of the exhibit to show that even positive stereotypes are not harmless, that at the very least they obscure the realities of native peoples.

Powerful Images is further elaborated in a colorful companion book published by the University of Washington Press. Along with extensive educational programming, this volume and the exhibition are meant to create dialogue and understanding that go well beyond quaint End of the Trail bookends, movie posters, paintings of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, and glitzy Indian motorcycles.

Also please see our article covering this touring exhibition Powerful Images: Portrayals of Native America (9/1/98) at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art.

From top to bottom: Motorcycle - Indian Roadmaster Chief Model, ca. 1948. From the permanent collection of the Autry Museum of Western Heritage; A Contemporary Sioux, 1978 by James Bama, oil on panel. From the Buffalo Bill Historical Center; Film Poster, Dances With Wolves, 1990, Majestic Films International, German release. From the permanent collection of the Autry Museum of Western Heritage; Neon Sign, ca. 1960s - Maker unknown. From the permanent collection of the Autry Museum of Western Heritage; Assiniboine or Gros Ventre feather bonnet. Fort Belknap Reservation, Montana, ca. 1885. Eagle feathers, wool cloth, ermine and weasel skins, glass beads, horsehair. From the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Chandler-Pohrt Collection, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Richard A. Pohrt, Jr.

Read more about the Autry Museum of Western Heritage in Resource Library Magazine

rev. 11/26/10

Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2010 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.