Saturday, January 3, 2009

indians and paint

Fritz Scholder 
Monster Indian 
1968 oil on canvas 18 x 20 inches 
Collection of Ralph and Ricky Lauren

Four Indian Riders
1967 oil on canvas 60 x 72 inches
Collection of Mr. & Mrs. Willian Metcalf

Yesterday, I met a friend who's father was  an American Indian, I traded him a drawing for a gourmet lunch he bought us in the National Museum of the American Indian. I arrived first being more accustomed to traveling metro to the national mall for museum visiting than my pal and I took some quick photos of the ducks. We had a very gray sky and a sharp chill in the air, but it was perfect for going to a windowless museum to see some paintings. Art in museums is almost always lit with artificial lights and good  food and company lifts my spirits as does the walk to and from metro. This then was a perfect museum going day.
We enjoyed some really good herb roasted Salmon accompanied with wild rice  and water cress salad in addition to a little mushroom and sea weed salad. The coffee was fair trade coffee making it all the more enjoyable to sit and talk. Eventually we wandered through the museum on the way to find paintings by an artist neither of us knew. Along the way there were displays of interesting bead works in one area we stopped to admire.  We eventually found the Fritz Scholder, Indian: Not Indian Exhibition on the 3rd floor. The show included a short video of artist Fritz Scholder talking about his work and it gave us a short biography. Scholder's work is in this and New York's sister American Indian Museum because he broke the barrier to Indians of being fine artists painting and making art that was relevant to today and to real American Indian life in 20th century. There was until the late 1960's a taboo on doing anything besides folksy craft items that were naive and simplistic and  prescribed by the history of previous Indians artists and the non Indian romanticized idea of what is Indian art.  Fritz Scholder is an important artist for all of us because he helped begin breaking down some of the idealized romantic fiction we all grew up believing. My friend pointed out that even Indians bought into this romantic Indian fantasy. I think Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show is where it manifested in the mind of world what the Indian was, along with some 19th century novels written by white guys which inspired Bill and many others. The truth is much sadder but it is something we need to reckon with as Americans. The paintings were full of strong south western colors and his paintings of Indians made Scholder world famous and wealthy so he left Indian country to make art in New York City.  I got a few snap shots of the early works you can see above but I recommend you follow the link above to see the short video and view some of his works on the museum's website. Best is to see them in person but the museum's web gallery has some very good reproductions. 
Afterwards we walked over to the national gallery of art to see George de Forest Brush's Indian paintings. This gave us a 100 years perspective on the American Indian's image in paintings. 1880's is when white man George de Forest Brush painted and 1980's is when 1/4 Indian Fritz Scholder did his and they reflect the huge change in painting techniques over these 100 years. To see George de Forest Brush article I wrote shortly after that show opened and his images look back here or follow the link to NGAs website.
The gardens at the National Museum of the American Indian are some of my favorite in Washington DC and the pond you see is active all year long. It is the perfect place for Ducks to feel safe as well as many song birds. 

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