Lakota Voices: The Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University Highlights Art from The Heritage Center at Red Cloud Indian School

posted January 26, 2017

It didn’t take much for Jesuit priest Theodore “Ted” Zuern (1921-2007) to recognize he was drawn to a life of preserving Lakota culture, art, and heritage. In 1969, just one year after he became Red Cloud Indian School’s president, Fr. Zuern invited local Native artists to display their work on campus, sharing their talent and vision with the community. With that small exhibit, the Red Cloud Indian Art Show was born. Nearly 50 years later, it has established itself as the nation’s largest and longest running Native American art show of its kind. In doing so, The Heritage Center has become a trusted advocate for Native arts and amassed one of the nation’s most significant collections of Native art in the country, stewarding over 10,000 pieces from tribal artists across North America.

Next month, in honor of Fr. Zuern’s legacy, his alma mater—Marquette University—will host an exhibition featuring 21 priceless pieces from The Heritage Center’s permanent collection. Lakota Voices: Collection Highlights from The Heritage Center at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation juxtaposes the individual creations of historic Lakota artists with the work of contemporary Lakota artists, inspired by and in dialogue with traditional art forms such as buffalo bonnets, ledger drawings, and embellished buffalo horns. It also explores the longstanding relationship between the Jesuit and Lakota spiritual traditions that have shaped Red Cloud Indian School’s history.

The exhibit will be on display at the Haggerty Museum of Art on Marquette’s campus in Milwaukee, Wisconsin—Fr. Zuern’s birthplace—from February 2 through May 21, 2017.

For Mary Maxon, The Heritage Center’s director, recognizing Fr. Zuern’s contributions is a fitting way to anticipate celebrating 50 years of the Red Cloud Indian Art Show.

“Fr. Zuern had a deep respect and admiration for Native artists—and an understanding of the way art is an integral part of Native culture,” said Maxon. “With his guidance, the Red Cloud Indian Art Show was founded to showcase the talent and skills of Native American artists and to afford them an entrance into the art world. Almost 50 years later, thanks to his vision, we continue to support Native artists, not only through the annual Red Cloud Indian Art Show, but also through our gift shop program for Lakota artists, and the care and exhibition of a one-of-a-kind collection that really represents the unique character and range of Native art.”

As a young Jesuit in training in the 1960’s, Fr. Zuern became a teacher on South Dakota’s Rosebud Reservation and immediately recognized how deeply art was entwined in Lakota culture and spirituality. He believed the Native people he served were all artists and said that “the best way to describe them is ‘poets’.” Above all, he recognized the many ways that Lakota culture and spirituality had been dismissed and suppressed.

Years later, as president of Red Cloud, he adapted the school’s curriculum to include and celebrate Lakota art, culture, and language, and students began to thrive in a new way. It was at that time that he launched the Show. Today his legacy lives on: the Show has helped to further the careers of some of the most prominent Native artists working today, including Donald Montileaux and Dwayne Wilcox, whose work will be on display at the Haggerty Museum of Art.

With Marquette’s deep Jesuit roots, the entire team at its Haggerty Museum of Art was thrilled to have a chance to honor Fr. Zuern’s legacy—and to highlight the extraordinary work in The Heritage Center’s collection. Director and Chief Curator Susan Longhenry worked closely with Maxon and The Heritage Center’s Curator Ashley Pourier to pair historic and contemporary pieces that reflect the unique characteristics of both traditional and modern Lakota art. The resulting exhibition is a stunning collection that illuminates the experiences and perspectives of Lakota artists over more than a century.

“This exhibition is part of a larger effort to strengthen the experience of Marquette University’s Native students, and to create a campus forum for sharing Native culture,” said Longhenry. “We wanted both to highlight the tremendous talent of historic and contemporary Lakota artists, and—because Marquette University is a Jesuit institution—to celebrate the deep connections between Jesuit traditions and Lakota culture at Red Cloud Indian School.”

In developing Lakota Voices, Longhenry gravitated toward pieces that illustrate that longstanding relationship. One of her favorites, Holy Rosary Mission by Arthur Amiotte, is a collage that uses images from the Catholic faith and Lakota culture to create the shape of a cross. In addition, Longhenry created an interpretive exhibit to provide visitors with essential context for understanding the art on display. Through photographs from Red Cloud’s historic archive—which is based at Marquette—she developed an illustrated timeline that will run along nine-feet of one wall in the gallery, highlighting key moments in Red Cloud’s 129-year history. She also included text and images honoring Fr. Zuern’s work on reservations and the role he played in supporting contemporary Lakota artists.   

The Heritage Center’s curator Ashley Pourier was thrilled to work alongside Longhenry to identify pieces from the permanent collection to include. And she says this relatively small exhibition represents a true visual cross-section of Lakota art over time.

“Although it only includes 21 pieces, this exhibit is a small glimpse into the larger subject of Lakota art. We wanted to showcase items and historic artifacts from the permanent collection that are strongly associated with the Lakota: quillwork, parfleche and ledger art, to name a few. Each item is complemented, whether by materials or object item, with an historic example and modern artistic interpretation. My favorite pairing is a rawhide drum with a wooden structure which I paired with an art piece where a vinyl record is melted down to take the place of the rawhide on the drum. I love this piece because the dialogue around it can go anywhere,” explained Pourier. “Pieces like these not only highlight the talent of Lakota artists, but help us understand their perspectives and what they have experienced.”

By deliberately pairing historical pieces with contemporary work, Longhenry, Maxon, and Pourier created an exhibit that speaks to the resilience of the Lakota art, culture, and spirituality over centuries of change. Longhenry hopes that Lakota Voices will help to educate visitors about the issues facing the Lakota people today.

“When you look from each historic piece to its contemporary partner, you can see that there’s a very dynamic connection between them, and that these artists are very much informed by their rich history,” said Longhenry. “But above all, we want visitors to understand that the Lakota people do not only exist in our country’s history. They are part of a strong, vibrant, living culture.”

Photos © Red Cloud Indian School



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