Traveling Exhibition of American Indian Masterpieces Debuts at the Cleveland Museum of Art
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Traveling Exhibition of American Indian Masterpieces Debuts at the Cleveland Museum of Art

Tuesday, February 23, 2010
More than 100 works from the renowned Thaw Collection showcase artistry of cultures across millennia and throughout North America

CLEVELAND (Feb. 23, 2010) — Art of the American Indians: The Thaw Collection, a major traveling exhibition developed by the Fenimore Art Museum, will make its debut at the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) in March 2010. The exhibition explores Native North American art from the Eastern Woodlands to the Northwest through 135 masterpieces spanning 2,000 years. The exhibition provides visitors with a broad understanding and appreciation of the aesthetic accomplishments and cultural heritage of this country's first peoples. Art of the American Indians opens at CMA on March 7, 2010, and runs through May 30 before traveling to Minneapolis and Indianapolis.

The objects in the exhibition are drawn from The Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of Native North American Art, which was carefully assembled over the past two decades by Eugene V. Thaw, one of the art world's most distinguished connoisseurs and collectors of art. This is the first time the collection is being treated as an exhibition, and several key objects will only be seen at the Cleveland venue.

"This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to see an extraordinary range of Native North American works of the highest quality, each piece a paragon of creativity and artistic excellence," says Sue Bergh, associate curator, art of the ancient Americas, at CMA. "In Gene Thaw's own words, 'Indian material culture stands rightfully with ancient art masterpieces of Asia and Europe as their equivalent.' We are delighted to offer visitors this opportunity to examine more deeply this fascinating dimension of American history."

The works in Art of the American Indians are organized by geographic region, moving from the ancient ivories and ingenious modern masks of the Arctic to the astonishingly beautiful and dramatic arts of the Pacific Northwest, which form one of the pillars of the Thaw Collection. The basketry of Native American weavers appears in a section devoted to California and the adjacent Great Basin, home of Louisa Keyser (also known as Dat So La Lee), a renowned Washoe basket weaver and one of the most celebrated Native American artists. Beacon Lights, Keyser's most famous creation, will be a centerpiece of the exhibition.

The abstract art of the culturally complex Southwest will be shown in both its ancient and modern manifestations. From the Plains come outstanding examples of the colorfully beaded, feathered and painted works for which the region is most famous. Showcased as well are the Eastern Woodlands, including the Great Lakes, and their visually quieter and more contemplative arts, which are another of the collection's great strengths.

The majority of the 120-piece collection dates to the 19th century, but archaeological and contemporary works also are included to demonstrate the continued vitality of Native North American cultures. Fifteen CMA objects will also appear in Cleveland.

Exhibition highlights include:

  • Shaman's Mask, Tlingit people, Northwest Coast – A magnificently malevolent mask that directly manifests a powerful spirit being who helped a shaman intermediate between the worlds of matter and spirit: an octopus, signaled by sucker disks on the cheeks and the peaked, beak-like mouth.
  • Crane Mask, Yup'ik people, Arctic – This mask, one of the finest that survives, is part of a nearly identical female-male pair that danced together. Each crane strains forward and flutters its wings protectively around a figure on its breast, one a sick shaman and the other perhaps a helper coming to the shaman's aid. (Cleveland only).
  • Painted Drum, Pawnee people, Plains – Throwing lightning from its beak, a thunderbird dives from black clouds into a threatening yellow sky as a flock of swallows, the storm's harbingers, scatters like wind-blown leaves. Beneath, in a small center of calm, a man offers a pipe upward. (Cleveland only).
  • Basket, Louisa Keyser (Dat So La Lee), Washoe – A national treasure made by one of the most legendary basket-makers in North America (Cleveland only).

Exhibition Programming Highlights
Programming for individuals, families and students of all ages interprets the collection. Art and programming by contemporary Native American artists suggests the continued vitality and creativity of Native North American people and their cultures.

CMA's programming kicks off on the opening day of the exhibition, March 7, with a family and community day from 1-4 p.m. Free activities will include Native dancing and drumming, music, storytelling, hands-on art workshops and craft demonstrations.

Visitors can also learn more about Native art and cultures during the run of the exhibition by participating in a variety of tours. Free, guided exhibition tours occur every Thursday at 1:30 p.m. and every Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Free craft demonstrations by local Native American artisans will be held on selected Saturdays including March 13; April 3, 10 and 24; and May 1 and 22 beginning at 1:30 p.m.

The public can gain a deeper understanding through a series of lectures that will run during the course of the exhibition:

  • FREE Diplomacy, Curiosity and Early Native American Art from the Great Lakes:
    Two Profiles of the Soldier-Collector c. 1800

    Saturday, March 20, 2:30 p.m.
    Discover the earliest collections of Great Lakes Native American art that have come down to us from military officers in the British and American armies during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. While some of these men and their wives shared the period passion for collecting exotic curiosities, others were involved in intense diplomatic negotiations with prospective indigenous allies. This talk explores the collections they made and the contact they had with Anishinaabe and Hodenosaunee people.
  • FREE Art to Wear: Plains Indian Decorated Garments
    Sunday, May 9, 2:30 p.m., Recital Hall
    Joe D. Horse Capture (A'aninin [Gros Ventre]), associate curator of the African, Oceanic and Native American art department, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, will explore the forms, decoration and thematic significance of Plains Indian garments created by the Native Americans of the Great Plains region. These powerful objects are a testament to the creative ingenuity of Plains Indian artists and serve as symbols of status and accomplishment. An expert in the arts of the Plains Indians, Horse Capture will discuss many fine examples of these decorated garments in the Thaw Collection.
  • Resources Around the Circle: Native North American Art and Culture explores the Native American collections of three University Circle institutions: CMA, Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS) and Cleveland Museum of Natural History (CMNH). The three-part lecture series run on Saturdays, March 27, April 17 and May 8. Cost is $60, $50 for CMA, WHRS and CMNH members.

Art of the American Indians: The Thaw Collection is organized by the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. This exhibition has been made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts as part of American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius. The Cleveland Museum of Art's exhibition and education programs are made possible through the generous support of Dominion Foundation, Medical Mutual and Giant Eagle. The Cleveland Museum of Art is generously funded by Cuyahoga County residents through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. The Ohio Arts Council helped fund this exhibition with state tax dollars to encourage economic growth, educational excellence and cultural enrichment for all Ohioans.

The exhibition is free. Hours are Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.; Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays.

Edward S. Curtis and Zig Jackson photography exhibition and programming
To expand upon Art of the American Indians: The Thaw Collection, CMA will host a special photography exhibition in the museum's east wing drawing upon our complete set (20 bound volumes and 20 accompanying portfolios) of Edward S. Curtis' landmark publication, The North American Indian, containing more than 2,200 photogravures. Two-thirds of the photography galleries will be devoted to the work of Edward S. Curtis featuring 30 of his large scale photogravures. The remainder will house the work of a contemporary Native American photographer, Zig Jackson, with 15 images from his series, Tribal Peoples. The exhibition will be on view from Feb. 7 – May 30, 2010.

  • American Indian Photography: Authorship and Representation
    Sunday, April 25, 2:30 p.m.
    An afternoon of lectures and conversation in conjunction with the companion exhibition, Edward Curtis and Zig Jackson, on view in the Cleveland Museum of Art's photography galleries.
  • The Journey of Rising Buffalo
    Zig Jackson (Mandan/Hidatsa/Arikara), artist, photographer and educator
    Hear Zig Jackson convey his experience as a Native American artist in contemporary America. His photographs reveal a people in transition, a traditional indigenous culture struggling to survive in a rapidly changing technological society. Attempting to counteract centuries of bias and misrepresentation, Jackson uses photography to document the everyday life experience of today's American Indians.
  • Native Authorship in the Works of E.S. Curtis and Other Episodes in the History of Representation
    W. Jackson Rushing III, Adkins Presidential Professor of art history and Mary Lou Milner Carver Chair in Native American art, University of Oklahoma
    What were the motivations for, and legacy of, Edward Curtis' monumental photographic project, The North American Indian? Learn about the agency of Curtis' Native photographic subjects, whose psychological acuity helped create the content of his romantic pictures. Discover the wider history of Native representation in the work of modern and contemporary photographers, such as Horace Poolaw, Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie and Larry McNeil.

About the Cleveland Museum of Art
The Cleveland Museum of Art is renowned for the quality and breadth of its collection, which includes more than 40,000 objects and spans 6,000 years of achievement in the arts. Currently undergoing a multi-phase renovation and expansion project, it is a significant international forum for exhibitions, scholarship, performing arts and art education. Admission to the museum has been free since its founding charter.

The Cleveland Museum of Art has a membership of nearly 25,000 households and is supported by a broad range of individuals, foundations and businesses in Cleveland and Northeastern Ohio. The museum is generously funded by Cuyahoga County residents through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. Additional support comes from the Ohio Arts Council, which helps fund the museum with state tax dollars to encourage economic growth, educational excellence and cultural enrichment for all Ohioans. For more information about the museum, its holdings, programs and events, call 1-888-CMA-0033 or visit www.ClevelandArt.org.

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About the Cleveland Museum of Art

The Cleveland Museum of Art is renowned for the quality and breadth of its collection, which includes almost 45,000 objects and spans 6,000 years of achievement in the arts. Currently undergoing an ambitious, multi-phase renovation and expansion project across its campus, the museum is a significant international forum for exhibitions, scholarship, performing arts and art education. One of the top comprehensive art museums in the nation and free of charge to all, the Cleveland Museum of Art is located in the dynamic University Circle neighborhood.

The Cleveland Museum of Art is supported by a broad range of individuals, foundations and businesses in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. The museum is generously funded by Cuyahoga County residents through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. Additional support comes from the Ohio Arts Council, which helps fund the museum with state tax dollars to encourage economic growth, educational excellence and cultural enrichment for all Ohioans. For more information about the museum, its holdings, programs and events, call 888-CMA-0033 or visit www.ClevelandArt.org.