Native American Art at Dartmouth
Highlights from the Hood Museum of Art
October 8, 2011, through March 11, 2012
I have just returned from the “Native American Art at Dartmouth” exhibit at The Hood Gallery at Dartmouth College. A friend, who loves Native American history, went to see this exhibit this past fall and came back raving about it. I have no such inclination so it took an errand to Hanover to entice me into the Hood to see this show. It is a fascinating exhibit that contains traditional craft and contemporary paintings from their permanent collection. This show will end on March 11 so there is still time to see it.
I am aware that much of recent Native American History is full of the treachery of the US government and the struggle to adapt. I can’t help but reflect that much of the handiwork is the story of their adaptation to the new techniques they learned from Europeans and the introduction to new materials such as beads, paper, metals and yarn. They took these items and transformed them into items to transmit their culture.
Looking at the early bead work made me consider the time, effort and patience that went into creating the elaborate surfaces. While the beads are manufactured in Europe they are still uneven in size and form. Covering a surface evenly takes time and constant readjustment to get them to all lay flat. Of course, this is a period where there were no electronic or social distractions. Seeing the transformation of the craft over time was also enlightening. Early bead work was much more geometric and bold following the patterns traditionally used on their pottery. Over time the patterns became more elaborate and floral reflecting their relationship with nature. I wonder if it wasn't also due to exposure to Victorian patterns on clothing and home goods.
The more contemporary artists such as Fritz Scholder and T.C. Cannon adopted a recognizable modern technique but addressed Native American focused themes. I will leave you to your own interpretation but they both knew how to put the paint down lusciously. It feels familiar- not too much of a departure from other American painters. I did enjoy an updated ledger drawing that portrayed Custer and an Indian doing proxy battle with a Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots game.
While this show isn't a splashy one it offers a lot to think about.... such as how much of the Native American oeuvre was created for the tourist trade? And how exactly do we transmit our culture via the arts? It is only up for another month so I recommend making the trip to the Upper Valley.