Magazine article Sunset

Indian Art in Denver ... the Best Work of 300 Tribes

Magazine article Sunset

Indian Art in Denver ... the Best Work of 300 Tribes

Article excerpt

The first museum to collect and display Native American works as art rather than anthropological artifacts, the Denver Art Museum has recently renovated its exhibit space. Now it's easier for visitors to see and understand this important Western collection. The reinstallation is the museum's biggest change in more than 15 years.

While the 2,500 items on display are just a fraction of the collection, each item represents the best of its type. The array includes ceramics, textiles, basketry, rugs, jewelry, and clothing.

Acoma to Tlingit: works from 300 tribes from coast to coast

Denver's newly redesigned gallery gives a perspective different ftom the West's three other most distinguished collections of Native American art: Phoenix's Heard Museum, Los Angeles' Southwest Museum, and Santa Fe's Museum of Indian Arts and Culture.

And while the Heard has more kachinas and the Southwest more pottery, the quality of the Denver's smaller selection stands up well. It was started at the turn of the century by Anne Evans (daughter of Colorado's second territorial governor); pieces were chosen with an eye to artistic merit-the best pot, the finest basket.

While the other three museums concentrate on the peoples of the Southwest, the Denver exhibit ranges over North America, covering 10 regions and 300 tribes.

How the redesigned gallery works

The new gallery space now has an open feel: windows have been unblocked to bring in natural light, and most items sit out instead of behind glass. Works are arranged geographically.

You'll first sce some early works from several regions, including prehistoric pottery from Southeastern tribes and a vicious-looking Iroquois war club from the mid-18th century. Next, you wind through the Northeast section with its forbidding 19th-century Seneca face masks and leather boxes. In the Great Plains area, an original 1884 Sioux tepee has hunting scenes painted on its canvas sides. In one corner, you can watch videotapes on such subjects as Navajo silver work, Hopi songs, and Plains Indians history In another, you sit quietly and listen to taped Indian chants and songs.

Moving on to the Southwest, you'll find some outstanding 19th- and 20th-century pottery, including a large black water jar by Maria Martinez and a cooky jar by Sadie Adams. Nearby, take time to examine the intricate Wiyot (northern California) basketry of Elizabeth Hickox, perhaps the most famous Native American basketmaker; note how she achieved the curving shapes by varying stitch size. …

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