This timely new book surveys the artistic traditions of indigenous North America, from those of ancient cultures such as Adena, Hopewell, Mississippian, and Anasazi to the work of modern artists like Earnest Spybuck, Fred Kabotie, Dick West, T. C. Cannon, and Gerald McMaster. The text is organized geographically and draws upon the testimonies of oral tradition, Native American history, and the latest research in North American archaeology.
Recent art historical scholarship has helped restore, to a large degree, some understanding of the identities and cultural roles of Native American artists and the social contexts of the objects they created. Native American art is often discussed simply as a cultural production rather than the work of individual artists who made objects to fufill social and cultural purposes; this book focuses as much as possible on the artists themselves, their cultural identities, and the objects they made even when the names of the individual artists remain unrecoverable.
But this is not a book of artists’ biographies. It seeks to inform a general readership about the history of Native American art with a lively narrative full of historical incident and illustrated with provocative and superlative works of art. It explores the tension between artistic continuities spanning thousands of years and the startlingly fresh innovations that resulted from specific historical circumstances. The narrative weaves together so-called “traditional” arts, “tourist” arts, and Native American art of today by taking the point of view of their particular and local histories—the artists, their communities, and audiences.
Among the many cultures included are: Arapaho, Athapascan, Cherokee, Cheyenne, Chumash, Hopi, Hupa/Karok, Inuit, Iroquois, Kwakiutl, Lakota, Miwok, Navajo, Ojibwa, Pomo, Tlingit, Tsimshian, Uypik, and Zuni.
David W. Penney
David W. Penney is Vice President of Museum Programs and Curator of Native American Art at the Detroit Institute of Arts.