By: Anna Doctor, Summer Mellon Intern
This summer was filled with rich experiences. While interning at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, I have tried my hand at a variety of tasks essential to working in a museum. The director of the program Michael Howell made sure of this. Mostly I was involved with the Southwest objects in the collection as part of the Mellon internship funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. For the past couple of months, my understanding of Native arts from historical to present has deepened significantly. Now I am no where near expertise, and do not think I would ever be able to reach that point, but I was introduced to a variety of artists and movements I never knew existed prior to this summer while browsing the collection. As part of the internship, we were fortunate enough to be able to drive down to New Mexico and visit museums that included the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque and Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (MIAC) in Santa Fe to meet with the museum directors and curators at each place. The way these institutions displayed their art, allowing the artists and the pieces themselves to control who tells the story and how, was wonderfully inspiring. Once I was back in Colorado Springs, I perused the collection for art made by contemporary Native women artists. These voices, while extremely valuable, are rarely given the space or attention to be heard. One print by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith caught my eye. At first glance it is seemingly simple in its design and execution. But when one takes time to get a closer look, s/he realizes the complexity of each element and the a vital role it plays in informing the overall story.
Jaune Quick-to-See Smith is a powerfully influential artist who not only is successful in creating moving artwork that involves topics such as tribal politics, human rights, and environmental issues but also has organized and/or curated Native exhibitions as well as given lectures at universities, museums, and conferences both domestically and internationally. She gave the recognition to women artists, more importantly Native women artists, they deserved after decades of neglect in the contemporary art world.
Born in 1940 at Montana’s Indian Mission on the Flathead Reservation, Jaune is a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Indian Nation. At a very young age she had decided she wanted to become an artist. This was partly inspired by a Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (the Impressionist artist) movie she watched. She originally was steered towards art education and got her bachelors from Framingham State College in Massachusetts. Although acknowledged by her instructors to be more talented than many of her fellow male peers, the sexist realities that dominated the art world were very prevalent in 1976. In 1980 she was awarded a Master of Fine Arts from the University of New Mexico. Today, her name is known worldwide.
Her work incorporates images and themes drawn from both Native and non-Native sources.
These sources range from Diné (Navajo) saddle blankets to the works of 20th century German artist Kurt Schwitters. We are lucky enough to have a couple of her lithographs (a printmaking technique that involves drawing into a stone) in our collection. One of them is the lithograph pictured on the left from the Camas series made in 1980. It shows a lively composition filled with a variety of earthy red clay and soil brown rectangles, each with a unique texture, topped with a line of red squares snaking around the arrangement. Among these elements are recognizable images such as teepees, a horse in the top half, a buck beneath, possibly a vessel on a table in the bottom center, and a couple other pieces. These figurative elements draw influences from petroglyphs, or imagery generally associated with prehistoric civilizations such as those located in the American West. These historically significant symbols adapted to a post-modernly arranged wonderland speak to Smith’s creatively eclectic but ultimately unique style.
Smith’s work offers a unique personal perspective that is expressed through her art. This perspective is informed by her identity as a Salish-Kootenai, as a modern-day woman, and as a citizen of this planet. It is critical and humorous, representational and abstract, traditional and new, shaping contemporary Native art unlike any of her (male) predecessors. “Cultural arts worker”: that is how Smith sees herself. She is interacting and sharing with the community not just through the pieces she creates but also through active engagement. This active engagement gives a platform for both her voice and her fellow Native women artists. Thanks to Smith’s determination to challenge the norms, she provided opportunities for Native women artists to have their work shown in galleries. She is a influential force shaping the future of the art world. Her art, as one can see in this print, allows the viewer to look through window onto another world; providing visions on the principles of nature, culture, and human identity.
“I see myself as a bridge builder. My art, my life experience, and my tribal ties are totally enmeshed. I go from one community with messages to the other, and I try to enlighten people” (Smith, Postmodern Messenger, Exhibition Catalogue, 2004).