The Art of Museum-Hopping

Today was long. We hit 4 museums in 8 hours: first, at 10:00, the Fred Jones museum on the OU campus, where we were given a lovely tour (and a lot of important information, which we caught on film) by Dr. White, a self-described Oklahoma art specialist. That museum is almost as beautiful as the Cowboy museum we visited yesterday – and that’s saying something.

Next we rushed over to the Jacobson House, which is, thankfully, also very near the OU campus. We were meeting Tom Poolaw, a famous Kiowa artist whom Professor M-L knows. We talked over Indian tacos (it was Taco Tuesday; I don’t want to say that was the reason we scheduled our visit for a Tuesday, but…), while I tried to steady my little camera on top of a water bottle with one hand as I ate with the other.

That was probably the most simple and fun part of the day. The Jacobson belonged to Oscar Jacobson, the Art Director at OU who agreed to take on the Kiowa Five as students, even though they weren’t technically qualified to be in college. They were really taught by Edith Mahier, but Jacobson did a lot to further their fame; he published the portfolio that made them famous, and arranged for a lot of their paintings to be sold. He also wrote a heap of literature about them, and the other native Oklahoma artists that he “encouraged.” But we’ll get to documentation in a moment.

After eating, we explored the gift shop, and Zac discovered two gorgeous reproductions of posters advertising exhibits of the Kiowa Five (these were years after they were all painting together – their exhibits went on for a long time after the group split up). Professor M-L decided to buy us each one as a gift, which was incredibly nice of her. I can’t wait to have it hanging in my room in the fall!

After making our purchases, Zac and Jade and I interviewed a young Cheyenne artist named Michael Elizondo, an OU graduate who has his paintings hanging at the Jacobson House, and has exhibited in other museums too. He was diffident, I thought, but he told us a lot. Then we went outside and took a picture in front of a wall where, decades and decades ago, the Kiowa Five also took a photo (the original of which is still M.I.A.). So that was really cool. And then, just as we were getting ready to leave, Tom Poolaw introduced the professor to Mr. Littleman, who, along with his son (or son-in-law?) told us about being modern Kiowa dancers. They travel around the country, as well as to different countries, to perform. He also gave us the Kiowa word for memory (he both wrote it and said it for my camera)! This is very exciting, because we’ve been bugging various Kiowa language experts to give us this word for months. We’re going to use it in the title of the exhibit, probably. So that was a very productive, if unexpected, interview.

Next we drove off to the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History, where we got to explore the Native Peoples of Oklahoma exhibit. It traces the Native Americans in the Plains area from the time of Clovis points (for you non-anthropologists, that’s early – pretty much right after humans crossed over the Bering Land Bridge from Asia) to the 21st century. There wasn’t as much Kiowa material culture as I’d’ve liked to see, but that makes sense. The Kiowa were originally a northern plains tribe; they lived as far north as Canada around the time of the first European contact in the south. Like a lot of tribes currently in Oklahoma, they were moved into the area (then called Indian Territory) in the 1800s and no longer aloud to roam around like they used to. Before that happened, most southern plains tribes would raid as far south as Mexico, and would go deep into the northern plains too. But of course the U.S. government couldn’t have that. They had to know where everybody was at all times, so they penned them up in their own private territory. Of course that failed too, because those voracious American settlers just couldn’t keep their hands off “uncivilized” land. OU’s mascot, the “Sooners,” get their name from the settlers that entered Indian Territory before it became the state of Oklahoma in 1907. OU was founded in 1898, if that’s any indication of how little the U.S. government’s mandate meant to people.

Woah, sorry for the tangent. I was talking about Sam Noble. It was a very pretty, bright, well-organized museum as well. I’m beginning to think all Oklahoma museums are just amazing.

Next we raced over to the Western Heritage Library at OU and tore (not literally – we do know how to treat primary documents) through two collections: the Soule photographs (featuring late 19th century plains Indians) and the collection of Jacobson’s own papers. We found his biographies of the Kiowa Five, which we had photocopied because they’re so full of anecdotes and descriptions of their appearances. Some of the best quotes are:

“Spencer Asah is fat and round as a sack full of grain.”

“[Jack Hokeah] is as straight as a cavalry officer of the old school and owns the most magnificent pair of shoulders in Oklahoma.”

Moving on – we rushed from OU to the home of Professor M-L’s good family friends, who hosted us for dinner. The food was delicious, perhaps even more so because we’ve been eating restaurant food since we got here. For dessert we had chocolate meringue pie…I am going to have gained 10 pounds by the time I get home, but what can I do? Everything here tastes so good.

Back at the hotel, past 9:00, we read over some of the photocopied materials we’d gathered today, but the others didn’t last long. I don’t blame them; I’m exhausted too, and tomorrow’s trip to Anadarko isn’t going to do much for that. But tomorrow will be, I think, the most exhilarating day of the trip. We won’t be in a museum or in the archives. We’ll be at the Kiowa agency, far from big cities, out talking to Kiowa people, doing the realest kind of cultural anthropology I can think of.

All right. I’m going to upload my photos now, and then I’m calling it quits for the night. I can’t believe it’s only Tuesday.

PHOTO GALLERY, PART III:

Another statue on the OU campus (they’re everywhere). This one is called “May We Have Peace,” and features a Chiricahua Apache man with a peace pipe.

A reproduction of the photo of the Kiowa Five with Oscar Jacobson outside his house (taken at the Visitor’s Center of OU)…

…and here’s our version! If you look closely, you can see that we’re standing in front of the exact same door as the Kiowa Five did back in the 1930s!

This is a didactic panel at the Sam Noble Museum – I wanted all you fans out there (yeah right) to see how all these tribes (a lot of them not even plains tribes) got squeezed into this tiny state with limited resources that already had Indians in it (who, understandably, didn’t really feel like sharing their land with unrelated tribes). And then, on top of that, settlers wouldn’t leave them alone like the government had promised. And then, on top of that, after Oklahoma was a state, the government told the tribes they couldn’t hold their land in common, and alloted plots to families, and sold off the rest to whites for profit. And now they all complain that the Indians are getting rich off casinos when they most certainly are not. And even if they were – I think after all this they deserve a little success.

It must be the lateness of the hour that’s sending me off on these tangents. Bedtime.

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A Day in the Archives

We arrived at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City at 9:30 this morning – a solid half hour before the doors even opened. After taking some photos of the many statues dispersed across the parking lot, we made our way down to the basement for our 10:00 appointment in the archives.

And then we spent approximately 6 hours sifting through folders and folders of documents pertaining to everything from the Fort Marion prisoners to each individual member of the Kiowa Five, and even native artists that came after them. I myself only got through 3 and a half folders, and I still took about 7 typed pages of notes. Some of my most interesting discoveries include:

– an angry letter from Mrs. Susie O. Peters, the Field Matron at the Kiowa Indian Agency who first helped and encouraged the Kiowa Five with their artwork.

– an article that described the bitter hatred between Richard Pratt, a military officer and the founder of Carlisle Indian School (ie, an assimilationist), and James Mooney, an ethnographer who worked with many plains tribes; Pratt thought ethnographers were trying to keep Indians savage for their own selfish study, while Mooney thought it was wrong to take Indians far away from their homes and eliminate their culture.

– many many letters regarding the “destructive,” “shameful,” “indecent” dance gatherings held by the Kiowa and other nearby tribes (Arapaho, Comanche, Cheyenne, Apache, etc.), and discussing how best to prevent them, when really there was no law to do so

– the saddest letter of the bunch, written by a Kiowa named Ed Keahbone, asking that the Department of Indian Affairs allow a “Sun Dance, to be last and for ever gone.” He says this will be the final Sun Dance (a hugely important annual summer ceremony that had been prevented for many years prior to this). “This I know have gone from our people and never to return,” he writes. “We older people do not wish to have our young generations to follow our customs, but this is one thing we want as a tribal history to be preserved and kept.” It was so, so sad to read, especially knowing that they denied the request.

The museum itself, which we explored a little after lunch, was fabulous. It’s huge and well organized and has some great pieces. Anybody who comes to Oklahoma should check it out – not only are there paintings and sculpture, there’s also a room full of guns, a room full of bowie knives, a room full of native material culture, and a rodeo room!

We had dinner with some of my professor’s old professors, from when she went grad school at OU; they were all very nice, and were interesting to listen to. One of them, Joe Whitecotton (an ethnobotanist and political anthropologist), was a student of Julian Steward himself! All you anthro junkies out there know why that’s cool – the rest of you can just ignore this.

After dinner, Jade and Zac and I decided to walk and look for the OU bookstore, but we ended up walking 3 miles in the opposite direction and exploring the OU campus, which was big, pretty, and mostly deserted (it’s summer, after all). We took some fun pictures there – they have a lot of statues, and some really cool telephone booths.

After that we got Braums ice cream (I had a butter pecan milkshake), and then went back to the hotel, where we met my professor’s advisor briefly. Then the three of us went over all the different material we’d learned today, compared our ideas for exhibit themes and concepts, and argued (amicably) about paint colors for the walls of the museum. Right now everything feels a little undecided, but by the end of the week we know we’ll have our research all organized for the docents to train with, and we’ll be agreed on what this crazy exhibit should look like.

PHOTO GALLERY, PART II:

No guns or knives allowed in the museum….

The (very large) statue in the lobby of the museum, entitled “The End of the Trail.” It’s very controversial, I imagine because it depicts an Indian hunched in…defeat? pain? death? It marks Native Americans as bowing, wounded, disappearing – and so of course the Native Americans themselves won’t like it. I don’t much like it either, although it is a graceful piece of art.

One of the paintings in the museum that I really liked. I don’t know who the artist is, but I think it was called something like “Council of Three.”

A letter written by Stephen Mopope, one of the Kiowa Five artists, to the Superintendent of the Kiowa Indian Agency (a Mr. McCown). The letter itself wasn’t particularly exciting, but it was fabulous to see the very handwriting of a famous artist. And don’t worry, I had permission to take a picture.

Me in one of the mysteriously British phone booths on the OU campus.

 

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Procrastination Post

There is a lot of work to be done tonight. While I am not intimidated by what must get done this week, I, like any college student, am skilled in the art of procrastination.

But this counts as work too, I suppose. I’ll tell you about today.

In the morning, Jade and I went through the film of the artists we interviewed yesterday at Red Earth, jotting down the timing of each good quote. We plan to pick out some of the best parts and create a short video for the Muscarelle website to promote the exhibit. Hopefully we’ll get some more material for that later in the week.

After walking across the parking lot to Jason’s Deli for lunch, we headed back over to Tribes 131 and met with Caddo-Wichita artist Dolores Purdy Corcoran. It was so funny – right as we were admiring her contemporary ledger pieces, which were hanging on the wall, she walked up behind us and introduced herself. We spent more than an hour listening to her talk about ledger art, her own work, and other artists with work in the gallery. She describes her view of the stages of native art: She calls early ledger stage one, Kiowa Five pieces stage two, and all the later work later stages, which don’t quite flow chronologically. She told all kinds of stories about her experiences as a Caddo artist – about how she went to school for business because her parents wouldn’t pay for an art degree, and used her earnings from her two businesses to get her children through college before pursuing art. She also told a funny story about how, when she first began going to native art markets, people would say “Cay-do? I’ve never heard of that tribe.” They’re a very small tribe, admittedly, but Dolores would reply, straight-faced, “Neither have I. I just made them up.” Dolores walked us through the whole gallery, commenting on her fellow artists. She talked about the Santa Fe Native Art Market, for which she serves on the Standards Committee, and about the symbolism in her own works (Professor M-L bought a great modern ledger featuring pickup trucks for the exhibit). I scribbled down notes the whole time, but I haven’t typed them up yet – that’s another task for tonight.

We spent the rest of the afternoon discussing what requested artwork other museums have agreed to let us borrow for the exhibit. We’re getting a lot less than I expected, but Dr. Gorman says we actually have more than we need. Once we know absolutely everything that we can have, we’re going to have to eliminate some. In the next week we also have to do things like pick paint colors for the walls, decide where each piece will go, and finalize (more or less) our writings for the catalogue and press release and docents guide. It’s going to be a lot of work, and our schedules get crazy for the rest of the week, but I think we can handle it.

Here’s the upcoming schedule:

Monday (tomorrow): Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum

Tuesday: Fred Jones Museum, Jacobson House, meeting with Tom Poolaw, Sam Noble Museum

Wednesday: Anadarko, Oklahoma (where the Kiowa tribe is centered, and where there are fabulous Kiowa Five murals)

Thursday: Open Day (we may actually go to Anadarko this day, or else go back to Fred Jones or the Jacobson House or Sam Noble)

Friday: Lawton and Fort Sill (we return to Dallas that evening)

Saturday: fly home

So we’re pretty much booked for the week, which is both exciting and intimidating. We had a lot of down time today, to write and talk and rest. That won’t be true of the rest of this trip.

Tonight we had dinner at a very good Mexican restaurant, where we met one of Professor M-L’s friends, Dr. Patricia Gilman, an archaeologist at the University of Oklahoma. This was especially amazing for me because Dr. Gilman is a Mimbres expert – she knows Professor Roth, who’s heading the field school I’m starting on the 15th, and she’s been to the site I’ll be working at. She told me about the field cooking, the heat, the best place to eat in Silver City, and all kinds of other things. And she said there aren’t scorpions, which is a relief. Anyway, that was a very exciting dinner.

Okay. Now it’s time to get to work. I’m sure I’ll have plenty to say tomorrow after spending the whole day at the Cowboy Museum – and hopefully more pictures, too.

ADDITION (as of 11:07 p.m.) – Here are some of the best quotes from our meeting with Dolores Purdy Corcoran (the transcript of which I have just completed!):

“I do prison art, but I haven’t been to prison yet.”

“I’m trying to make it happy art, because it should be something you want to have in your home. Yet it’s still something where people can look at it and relive it. And ledger art, it’s like there are 2 stories on top of each other.”

“The Caddo had a ‘turkey dance,’ but we called it that to hide what it really was. The entire time, they’re pretending to be turkeys, but they’re singing about how so-and-so killed so-and-so. The women were singing this, but they didn’t want the army to know. And then the guys would come in, and eat, and sing more.”

“What is art? – that’s one of the things we’re determining in the art market – how far back is traditional? That’s one of the interesting things about art – it’s different depending on the perspective. To me, the calendar counts are art, even though they had a utilitarian purpose.”

“I think a lot of the art that’s in here, it’s for preserving our history. If it goes to a non-native home, they can pass on the story. It’s like another form of oral history. I think it’s important to get our history out to non-natives. Because it’s just a whole different culture.”

“For the exhibit, make sure people understand the sophistication put into this work – they made entire scenes with just red, yellow, and black. If they look at the composition colors – it’s kind of folk artish, but also not – it’s like being put on Mars and trying to draw it.”

And if you don’t know what words like “ledger,” “counts,” and “Caddo,” mean….well, that’s just an indication that you ought to see our exhibit in the fall! Yep, it’s shameless plug time: “Within the Reach of Memory Still”: A Kiowa Legacy in Art will be featured on the lower level of the Muscarelle Museum at William & Mary from September 9th until November 15th.

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Beginnings

Let me warn you right from the start that it is 1:43 in the morning and my English major writing skills are fading fast. I truly apologize for the lameness of this, my first blog post, and pray that you will keep reading, whoever you are, you random person out there who actually cares what I am doing in Oklahoma for the next week. Please don’t judge me too hard.

So – I have been in Oklahoma for more than 24 hours now, but I’ve been too exhausted/lazy/busy (mostly that last one) to begin this blog until tonight. Here it goes.

Myself, Jade, Zac, Professor Moretti-Langholtz, and Dr. Gorman are all in Oklahoma for the week doing research and acquiring art for the exhibit we’re curating on the Kiowa Five. The Kiowa Five were a group of native artists who brought international attention to native art in the 1920s and 30s. The exhibit (currently untitled – we’ll get into the reasons later) opens in September at the Muscarelle, and also focuses on ledger art, which came before the Kiowa Five, and contemporary native artwork, which was influenced by the Kiowa Five. For more on this topic, please see our Muscarelle press release (which will be ready…sometime this week).

Wow I used “Kiowa Five” a lot in that paragraph. But you’ll just have to get used to that. They come up a lot.

We all flew into Dallas/Fort Worth on Friday the third of June, got in a rental car, and started driving toward Norman, Oklahoma. Norman is significant for many reasons; not only is it the home of the University of Oklahoma, where the Kiowa Five were trained in art, but it also contains the Jacobson House, a museum crucial to our research, as well as the Tribes 131 native art gallery, which we have already visited (serendipitously, actually – we were really looking for Target at the time).

Anyway, we spent most of Friday evening on the road. We watched the earth turn steadily redder (Oklahoma means “red earth” in the Choctaw language) and admired the sunset and the unique rock structures (don’t ask me why they’re special, I’m not a geologist). When we got to Norman we paid that lovely (if unexpected) visit to the gallery, ran to Target for sunscreen and toothpaste, and then practically fell into bed. At least, that’s what I did.

Today we drove to Oklahoma City, which isn’t at all far from Norman, to attend the annual Red Earth Festival. It’s a gathering for native artists to sell their work, and it also includes competitive powwow dancing (I’m going to try and add a video below, so look out for that – it was fabulous!). I spent a lot of money, but, more importantly, Jade and Zac and I interviewed 5 or 6 artists, from various tribes across the country, asking questions about their influences and inspirations, as well as their views on culture and history what makes an artist an artist. I also spent a lot of money – but it was well worth it. And oh, the fry bread!

They say Red Earth is on the wane, though. This was its 25th year running, I believe, but the Professor said it used to be much larger. Some people think the center of native art has shifted more toward Santa Fe, which has always been huge. To me it seemed amazing; it was only the second powwow I’ve been to, and the art was fabulous, and the people were friendly. And there was fry bread. Yeah, it’s worth mentioning twice.

Other things of note:

1. The billboards out here are ridiculous – and super entertaining. For example: there was a beer billboard with an actual waterfall in the center. Also, there were two adjacent billboards, the top one advertising liquor, and the bottom, it seemed, advertising meth (of course, upon closer reading, we saw that it was advising against the use of meth). But it was still disconcerting.

2. The Target here has a produce section. Which is really convenient, I guess, but it somehow seems wrong.

3. Sunlight falls at a different angle than at home. Dry heat is even lovelier than I’d remembered from when I was in Mesa Verde years ago, but it’s true what they say about not realizing you’re dehydrated. And it doesn’t help that my cute but cheap NYC sunglasses are broken.

4. Sonic is delicious. We ate there for dinner tonight, and stayed for hours sitting outside and talking about everything and everything – our favorite foods, TV shows, restaurants; our families; our first-pick colleges; and of course there was more. The Professor has such amazing stories. We didn’t get back to the hotel until almost midnight, but that’s all right because we get to sleep in tomorrow!

Okay, that’s enough for days one and two. Look at all the pretty pictures & videos below, if you so choose. It may give you (whoever you are, you silly person who has continued to read this) a better idea of what it’s like out here, so far from my beloved New England.

Please, please bear in mind – I am tired. None of this post makes sense. Tomorrow’s will be infinitely better, I promise.

PHOTO GALLERY, PART I:

This was one of the first things we saw as we crossed into Oklahoma – it was a lot bigger than the “Welcome to Oklahoma” sign. Interpret that as you will.

The infamous Liquor/Meth billboards. Somebody really wasn’t paying attention when they let this happen…

The amazing sunset last night, captured somewhere between Dallas and Norman.

Male fancy dancers, coming into the powwow arena as part of the entrance dance, which includes all kinds of dancers (shawl dancers, grass dancers, jingle dancers, etc.). I have video of a lot of the dancing, but this silly blog won’t let me upload it.

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