UCROSS — A lending exhibition at the Ucross Foundation bridges the past and present and exemplifies a move toward displaying more Native American art in the future.
“Wildlife, Pattern, and Identity: Contemporary Native American Work from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation” began June 30 and runs until Oct. 1. There will also be a reception for the exhibit at Ucross Saturday at 3 p.m.
Ucross Foundation residency manager Tracey Kikut said the exhibit is uncommon because it features the work of 10 artists, none of whom resided at Ucross. They are mostly prints, along with a few photographs and paintings. None of the nine living artists featured in the exhibit will make the reception Saturday, but there will be a reading from Navajo member Sherwin Bitsui, a poet and current Ucross resident.
The project had been in the works for a while and was the brainchild of former Ucross Foundation board member Tad Savinar, who has known Jordan Schnitzer since childhood. Savinar knew Schnitzer housed a lot of traditional and contemporary Native American works of art and asked about loaning some of the art at Ucross. The art pieces were shipped from Oregon to Wyoming earlier this year.
“I thought it would be interesting if there could be some kind of storyline that showed the traditional Native American crafts and then kind of bridge the gap in some narrative form to the contemporary artists’ work,” Savinar said.
Savinar, an artist and former Ucross resident, selected pieces he was interested in and arranged them into various themes. After looking through the work, Savinar decided on three words that emphasized the traditional and contemporary works: wildlife, pattern and identity, thus creating the exhibit’s title.
Savinard added that the themes are somewhat subjective and the works can be very broadly interpreted.
“I looked for works that could be loosely grouped into these themes, and certainly they’re up for interpretation, but that was something that I was trying to do from the beginning,” Savinar said. “(I was) trying to create a conversation between the past and the present.”
Kikut said it was important to get contemporary Native American work on display because of the local connection.
“We recognize that there are several demographics that are not represented consistently,” Kikut said. “One of them, and the most obvious to us, is Native American artists. We are on ancient, historic Native American grounds right here, and to not have those individuals applying and not coming into our communities, I think is something that is missing. I believe that Ucross saw that as an opportunity, so we decided to go after that.”
“Although these Native Americans in this show come from other tribes and other regions, I still think that the first people who lived here — their legacy is certainly here,” Savinar said. “I think it’s always good to remind us that we weren’t the only people living here.”
The exhibition also coincides with the Ucross Foundation’s new Native American Visual Arts Fellowship. The fellowship began this year with performing artist Sydney Pursel and continued with Brenda Mallory. Two artists per year spend four weeks in Ucross and have an exhibit the following year. Pursel and Mallory will share an exhibition next summer.
The works of art include a wide variety of styles, themes and colors. Some are clearly Native American, while others don’t have a noticeable connection at first glance.
“There is a tremendous amount of traditional (Native American) work in the region,” Kikut said. “Do we see contemporary Native works? Not as often, so bringing that in and showing what’s happening now is extremely important.”
The unique exhibit was years in the making and serves as a precursor for similar galleries in the future, tying the past to the present in numerous ways.