Transforming Images: The Art of Silver Horn and His SuccessorsBy Arthur Fournier
Born in 1860 on the great North American Plains in what is now Oklahoma, the Kiowa artist Silver Horn lived a life that spanned a tumultuous shift in traditional Plains Indian life and culture around the turn of the century. Over the course of his artistic lifetime, when Native-American societies across the continent were under attack from the U.S. military and white settlers, the celebrated artist created more than 1,000 images.
Some of those images will be on public display for the first time in a groundbreaking exhibition at the David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art. Transforming Images: The Art of Silver Horn and His Successors is a selection of works by Silver Horn and other 19th-century and 20th-century Kiowa artists, including members of the Kiowa Five. The exhibition, which will run through Sunday, June 11, will open today with a lecture by Janet Berlo, professor in gender and womens studies and art history at the University of Rochester. Berlos lecture will begin at 5 p.m. in the Biological Sciences Learning Center, Room 115, 924 E. 56th St. A reception from 6 to 8 p.m. will follow in the Smart Museum, 5550 S. Greenwood Ave. Both events are free and open to the public.
Robert Donnelley, guest curator at the Smart Museum and a Ph.D. student in art history, said the exhibition strategy of Transforming Images represents a unique approach to displaying Native-American works of art. Instead of positioning them as artifacts of a vanishing culture, Donnelley said he wants viewers to understand the Kiowa images as a vitally important and historically rooted component of the greater American tradition.
Although some scholars might question whether we can say traditional Kiowa culture continued to exist after 1935, the year when the last member of the pre-reservation generation died, this exhibition demonstrates that visual traditions of the Kiowa continue to live and evolve in works that are being produced today, explained Donnelley. The art of Silver Horn has definitely had a major role in preserving that heritage, he continued.
Donnelleys goals for the exhibition relate to his experiences as the former director of the Terra Museum of American Art. Prior to my work on Transforming Images, I was involved with a show of outsider art at the Terra. Like the traditional Kiowa artists of the 19th century, self-taught or outsider artists have little or no exposure to formal artistic training in the academic sense, and yet they create strikingly original works that are now being accepted into the mainstream art world, Donnelley explained. He said both exhibitions are part of his attempt to broaden the concept of American art beyond its primarily Eurocentric, East Coast focus.
Transforming Images, which will include drawings on paper and paintings on muslin and hides, will present viewers with a rich and varied representation of Silver Horns artistic legacy. The exhibition will boast a rarely displayed collection of four ledger books on loan from the Field Museum of Natural History. The ledgers contain Silver Horns personal visual reflections on tribal myths, daily life and the Peyote religion, which evolved into the Native-American Churcha movement in which Silver Horn became a leading figure.
The exhibition also will feature certain works that position Silver Horns drawings within the context of the evolving Plains Indian pictorial tradition. It will display the art of Silver Horns predecessors, who visually represented the continuing dilemma of native tribesmen within the dominating white culture. Among these works will be the prison drawings of Kiowa artist Wohaw, including perhaps the most famous Native-American artwork of its time, Wohaw in Two Worlds, on loan from the Missouri Historical Society in St. Louis.
Silver Horns career spanned the critical period between the warrior art heritage of the 19th century and the easel art tradition of 20th-century Plains artists, said Donnelley. To demonstrate this connection, the exhibition will include a sampling of works by the members of a 20th-century group known as the Kiowa FiveSpencer Asah, James Auchiah, Jack Hokeah, Stephen Mopope and Monroe Tsatoke, as well as contemporary figures such as Sharron Ahtone Harjo, Blackbear Bosin, Sherman Chaddlesone and T.C. Cannon.
The exhibit will mark the first time that Native-American art has been shown at the Smart Museum. Native-American artwork has been exhibited only twice before on the Universitys campus, both times at The Renaissance Society, which featured North American Indian Art from the Northwest Coast from 1942 to 1943 and Contemporary Indian Painting in 1958.
Born when Bison herds roamed the plains and the tribes were still sovereign, Silver Horn lived to see the land crisscrossed by highways and speeding automobiles. Transforming Images will provide a detailed visual record of the pre-reservation life that the artist knew as a child and the changing cultural practices of the Kiowa during the reservation period.
In addition to Berlos presentation on opening night, Transforming Images will include a symposium on themes of resistance, co-option and assimilation in Plains Indian art from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, May 12, and a performance at the Smart Museum by Florene Whitehorse-Taylor, a traditional Kiowa storyteller, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 1.
Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday; and 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The museum is closed Mondays. For more information, call (773) 702-0176.