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NATIVE AMERICANS' ARTISTIC HERITAGE ON VIEW

May 7, 1998 - January 2, 2000
Gallery between The Michael C. Rockefeller Wing and Lila Acheson Wing, first floor

Native Paths: American Indian Art from the Collection of Charles and Valerie Diker, a 20-month-long Metropolitan Museum exhibition of some 140 exceptional Native American works of art, will explore the broad cultural and artistic diversity of the Native peoples of this hemisphere — different times and places, materials and functions, peoples and traditions. More than 70 works will be shown in the first of three six-month rotations, ranging from quilled and beaded objects to pottery and basketry vessels to wood and bone sculpture. An important group of Plains Indian drawings, known today as ledger drawings, will also be on view. While some works in the Diker Collection date to the late 18th century, most date to the 19th and early 20th century. The exhibition will be on view from May 7, 1998, through January 2, 2000.

Philippe de Montebello, Director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, stated: "The exhibition Native Paths is a tribute to the collecting commitment of Charles and Valerie Diker, whose belief in the artistic importance of these American Indian works has moved them to share their superb collection with visitors to the Metropolitan Museum through the beginning of the next millennium. Because of their generosity, some of the most accomplished works of Native American art will now be seen within the Museum's walls among the artistic heritages of the peoples of all continents."

According to Julie Jones, Curator in Charge of the Metropolitan's Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas: "The Dikers have been expansive in their collecting efforts and acquired with an eye to representing the many different peoples and traditions, the wide variety of materials, and the countless functions to which the works were put, so that their collection would amply reflect the great cultural and artistic diversity of the native peoples of this hemisphere. Their excitement encompasses objects both great and small, representing many different tribes throughout the United States and Canada; their boundless enthusiasm for Native American art is contagious. It is for this reason that they are willing to share their collection with the Metropolitan's public for such a long period."

Quilled and beaded works of the Great Plains and Eastern Woodlands are one of the great strengths of the Diker Collection. They include many different objects — garments, bags, cradles, weapons cases, and more — that come from wide areas of the United States and Canada. Traditionally worked onto the tanned skins of various animals, notably deer and buffalo, quillwork was a uniquely American Indian phenomenon as dyed porcupine quills were not used for decorative purposes anywhere else in the world. With the coming of European traders, intensely colored glass beads replaced much of the quillwork, and the further availability of the factory woven cloth led to a proliferation of glass-beaded works of all kinds, as the successful adaptation of traditional designs furthered the continuation of regional styles. In the last decades of the 19th century, beadwork on the Northern Plains was particularly well developed, and a number of works from this era — such as beaded Crow shirts and weapons cases — are included in the exhibition.

During this same late-19th-century period, the pictorial chronicles that had been inscribed or painted on buffalo skin robes and tipis by the men of the Great Plains began to be drawn on the paper pages of traders' ledger books. The drawings told of the personal exploits of the warrior-artists, or of their tribal history, or of their own visionary experiences. When placed in captivity, the warrior-artists produced ledger drawings that recorded the enormous changes that were occurring in their lives and among their peoples.

The Ledger Drawings

On view will be a number of drawings from the Julian Scott Ledger, drawn in 1880 by unidentified Kiowa artists on the Kiowa, Comanche, and Wichita Agency, Indian Territory, and named for the original owner. Two hands are distinguished among the works on view, including "Julian Scott Ledger Artist B" in a drawing of 12 Kiowa men of high rank in splendid costume. The leader of the group bears a buffalo head symbol on his lower face, perhaps indicating his name. Two other exhibited drawings of the 1890s are by the Sioux warrior Swift Dog, one of the band of Sitting Bull's followers who fled to Canada in 1876 to avoid reservation confinement. Swift Dog's style is immediate and confident, with great simplicity of line.

Two other main groups of ledger drawing will be part of the exhibition, when works are rotated. One is a group from the Henderson Ledger, done in 1882 by Arapaho Indian artists on the Cheyenne and Arapaho Agency. It includes perhaps the best known "medicine vision" of all ledger drawings. Medicine visions are unique to the individual experience of the artist, and they can include spirit beings of a transformational, and beneficial, nature. This example may be the work of the Arapaho artist Frank Henderson himself, for whom the ledger is named. Yet another group to be exhibited is by the Sioux warrior-artist Short Bull, done in the 1890s, and subsequently given by him to the daughter of the famous photographer of American Indians, Edward Curtis.

Baskets

Baskets are another strength of the Diker Collection. Principally a women's art—using plant materials and the simplest of tools — baskets were produced for all manner of daily activities from food gathering and storage to gift-giving on special occasions. After being introduced to a very large audience at the Chicago World's Fair of 1892, American Indian baskets found an increasingly avid non-Indian public, creating a market that contributed to many fundamental changes in the medium. Baskets made during the decades around the turn of the century in the Great Basin, particularly Nevada, and California became special favorites, and many of the weavers are established by name today.

The best known of all Native American basket weavers is the Washoe maker Datsolalee (whose real name was Louisa Keyser). Her work is acknowledged for the minute care with which she created spiraling surfaces of interlocking stitches. One of her large, round, close-mouthed basketry bowls of 1906-07 will be in the exhibition. Another fine basket, made by a California Chumash maker named Lapulimeu, bears the representation of a coin that depicts the 18th-century Spanish coat of arms and crown. Dating to the 1820s, the coin basket is a rare survivor of the type thought to have been made for the priests of the California missions. Further north along the Pacific rim, the peoples of the Northwest Coast were among the most prolific art producers of all Native Americans. While wood was their natural medium, they too wove baskets, made skin clothing, and carved personal objects of precious materials. Illustrative of this, a tanned-skin Haida tunic made for a child in the 1870s and brightly painted with family insignia will be in the exhibition, as will an engaging, painted Tlingit basketry hat of the 1830s, and a Tsimshian soul catcher of 1850. A soul catcher was used by a ritual specialist, or shaman, in the treatment of illness as it was thought to be able to recapture the lost soul.

Northwest coast objects of wood include masks, headdress frontlets, rattles, spoons, and more. Among the especially intriguing pieces to be displayed is a rattle made in about 1910 in the form of a fish trap with fish in it. The salmon harvest on the Northwest Coast was an important event, and traps were traditionally set to capture the running fish. The cagelike wooden rattle was meant to be held in the hand and manipulated during relevant ceremonies, thus allowing the school of fish suspended within it "to swim." Another work with salmon harvest references is a Tlingit dance headdress of the 1860s, consisting of a maskette attached to the front of a traplike form.

Ceramic vessels from the Southwest are also part of the Diker Collection and will be included in the exhibition. In the Southwest, the ceramic medium is one of ancient beginnings, and the traditions for working and firing clay have continued in the region until today. Two of the water jars in the exhibition illustrate both the continuity that is present and the change that occurs within this deeply established tradition. Made in Acoma Pueblo at least three generations apart — the 1770s and about 1900 — the two jars are similar in material, manufacture, and decorated surface. Vessel shape, however, differs, and on the surface of the earlier vessel Southwestern bird forms are painted, while on the later vessel pumpkins and grapes appear.

Rotations of objects on view in Native Paths will take place in December 1998 and May 1999. Among the works to be exchanged will be Plains and Woodlands quilled and beaded works, ledger drawings, baskets, and pottery vessels. New Yorkers Charles and Valerie Diker are among the most prominent collectors of Native American works of art today.

Publication

The exhibition will be accompanied by an illustrated catalogue edited by Allen Wardwell, specialist in the art of the Pacific Northwest, with texts by Janet Catherine Berlo, Professor of Art History, University of Rochester; Bruce Bernstein, Assistant Director of Cultural Resources at the National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D. C.; T. J. Brasser, Plains Indian ethnologist; N. Scott Momaday, Native American artist, poet, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author; Allen Wardwell; and W. Richard West, Director of the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. It will be published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in a paperback edition and will be available in the Museum's Bookshop for $19.95.

Educational Programs

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Metropolitan Museum will offer an extensive roster of educational programs and resources, including a series of lectures, films, family programs, and special programs developed in collaboration with the National Museum of the American Indian.

Native Paths: American Indian Art from the Collection of Charles and Valerie Diker is organized by Julie Jones with Allen Wardwell, Curatorial Consultant. Installation design is by Dennis Kois, Assistant to the Museum's Chief Designer.

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April 27, 1998

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