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J. Shane Mercer, Published September 03 2009

Native perspective: Exhibit displays American Indian art

It’s a show that weaves old and new, art and artifact as it paints a textured picture of portrayals both of and by American Indians.

“Changing Perceptions of the American Indian,” on display through Sept. 13 at the Rourke Art Gallery in Moorhead, is, itself, frequently changing as one views it. Beaded breastplates, moccasins, necklaces and baskets stand in juxtaposition to stylized 1970s lithographs by Leonard Baskin and native artist Woody Crumbo’s silkscreen prints, circa 1950.

When many people think of native cultures, the images they’ve seen or think of are focused on the past, says Joanna Schock, student curator of the show. Schock, a 20-year-old art history and history student at Concordia, wanted to show the historical perspective of American Indians, but she also wanted to show that these are living cultures.

Among other items, the exhibit includes photographs by Frank Fiske, hand-colored steel engravings from the 1800s, lithographs and an American Indian shawl, dress and pipe horn. Also in the exhibit is a multistrand necklace of beads, leather and sinew that Schock says is “absolutely stunning” when it is being worn.

A highlight of the show is an acrylic self-portrait by Fritz Scholder, who was born in Breckenridge, Minn., and became a giant in the world of American Indian art. The Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of the American Indian just closed a major two-city retrospective of his work. The museum describes Scholder as “the most influential, prolific and controversial figure in the history of Native art.”

Rourke Art Gallery Museum Director James O’Rourke says Scholder changed “the whole perception of what Native American art could be” and sparked a renaissance of American Indian art.

The “Changing Perceptions” show features works from the permanent collection of the Rourke Art Gallery Museum, which includes both the Rourke Art Gallery and the Rourke Art Museum. The exhibit covers much of the first floor and spills into the gallery basement. But it’s only a part of the larger collection.

Schock says “there’s probably two times as much stuff that isn’t out.”

“I’ve been collecting Native American art since we opened the gallery,” O’Rourke says.

Among that still-tucked-away material are a number of additional works by Scholder. And O’Rourke says in the “next year or so” they’re planning a show of Scholder’s work drawn primarily from the Rourke collection.

Schock says she’s “very happy” with how the “Changing Perceptions” show turned out. It’s her hope that the exhibit will prompt some reflection by visitors.

“I wanted it to maybe challenge what (visitors) may immediately think of when they hear the term Indian or Native American,” she said.

“And, of course,” she says, “I want them to think it looks nice.”


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Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734