The exhibition "The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky" brings together more than 150 works--many never before seen in a public exhibit in North America. Ranging from an ancient stone pipe and painted robes to drawings, paintings, collages, photographs, and a contemporary video installation, the exhibition reflects the significant place that Plains Indian culture holds in the heritage of North America and in European history. It also conveys the continuum of hundreds of years of artistic tradition, maintained against a backdrop of monumental cultural change--and a selection of modern and contemporary works provide a compelling narrative about the ongoing vitality of Plains art.
Drawn from 81 institutions and private collections in Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland, Canada, and the U.S., the exhibition represents the art traditions of many Native nations. The distinct Plains aesthetic is revealed through an array of forms and media: sculptural works in stone, wood, antler, and shell; porcupine quill and glass bead embroidery; feather work; painted robes; ornamented clothing; composite works; ceremonial objects; paintings; photography; and works on paper.
Organized chronologically, the first gallery showcases pre-contact works, including important sculptural pieces in stone and shell. One of the highlights is the 2,000-year-old Fluman Effigy Pipe made of pipestone, depicting a deified ancestor or mythical hero. Influential works from adjacent regions are included in this section.
The 19th-century works in the exhibition include key pieces long associated with westward expansion. Among them are calumets, the long and elaborate pipes shared and given as gifts in the systems of protocol that were developed to establish diplomacy and trade between Europeans and the inhabitants of the "New World" whom they encountered on the Plains.
The reintroduction of the horse to North America by the Spanish, beginning at the end of the 16th century, revolutionized Plains Indians cultures in many ways--particularly as a boon to the buffalo hunt. In the exhibition, there is a section presenting some of the best examples of 19th-century horse gear, weapons, clothing, and shields associated with a florescence of culture in the area. One highlight among them is a Lakota horse effigy, believed to honor and memorialize a horse that died in battle as the result of multiple gunshot wounds.
The substantial changes brought on by reservation life, beginning in...