UCROSS — An ongoing exhibit at the Ucross Art Gallery features works by distinguished Native American artists that deal with traditional themes in contemporary ways.
The exhibit, officially titled “Wildlife, Pattern and Identity: Contemporary Native American Work from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation,” opened at Ucross late last month and is scheduled to run until October. It features 21 pieces lent to Ucross by the Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation, which is based in Oregon and has assembled an extensive collection of Native American artwork over decades.
Ucross residency manager Tracey Y. Kikut said the exhibit comes at an opportune time for Ucross, which is in its first year of offering a Native American Fellowship for the Visual Arts.
“This is a good time to start bringing attention to native artists; we feel they are under-represented for the most part, especially in the contemporary world,” Kikut said. “…Next summer we will follow up with another exhibition featuring the 2018 fellows from the Ucross fellowship for Native American contemporary artists.”
Former Ucross board member Tad Savinar reviewed the collection and selected the pieces displayed in the exhibition. Linda Tesner, director of the Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery of Contemporary Art in Portland, assisted with curating the exhibit and said the three themes the show is organized around emerged as the works were being selected.
“These three themes popped out pretty clearly as Tad looked through the prints that were available,” Tesner said.
The three themes the show highlights are ubiquitous throughout the history of Native American art and the exhibition explores how those themes have evolved through the works of contemporary Native American artists. Kikut said the mediums the artists used to portray traditional themes are almost all contemporary forms.
“These are lino-cuts, relief prints, copper etchings, lithographs; those are all non-traditional ways for native work to be represented,” Kikut said. “It’s not hide-work, it’s not weaving.”
Tesner said the influences and symbolism present in the works also reflect the contemporary world and highlighted prints by Joe Feddersen, which feature patterns that resemble traditional Native American basketry, but also reflect patterns found in the modern world.
“Traditionally, Native American basket weavers would be using things they saw in nature — various botanical forms, salmon, shapes in the landscape — material from their day-to-day life that would find its way into the designs of their baskets,” Tesner said. “Now, Joe Feddersen, as a contemporary Native American artist, finds in his daily life patterns like the grid lines for a parking structure, or the lines of the freeway where there’s the high-occupancy vehicle lane.”
She added that, in many cases, the artists featured are first and foremost contemporary American artists who incorporate many of the same influences as other contemporary artists but happen to have Native American heritage.
“Just because these particular print-makers are Native American, it doesn’t mean they’re not contemporary Americans living in the world of contemporary art like any other artist,” Tesner said.
The show is scheduled to run through Oct. 1. Ucross will also host a reception for the exhibition Aug. 25 that will feature a reading by acclaimed Navajo poet Sherwin Bitsui, who will be a writer in residence at Ucross. The show and the reception are open to the public free of charge.