Unbound: Narrative Art of the Plainsreflects the dynamic tradition of narrative art among Native nations from the Great Plains. The exhibition traces the evolution of the art form from historic hides, muslins, and ledger books to more than 50 contemporary works commissioned by the museum. Illustrating everything from war deeds and ceremonial events to notions of modernity and identity, the selected artworks are as diverse as the individuals who created them.
Beginning in the 18th century, Plains narrative art took shape through various media, such as painted deerskin war shirts and buffalo robes. During the 19th century, as trade broadened, artists created elaborate battle scenes on large canvas tipi liners and used muslin cloth, as well as hides, to record winter counts, some documenting more than 100 years of history. When ledger books became available, artists filled their pages with narrative drawings. Native artists began reviving “ledger art” in the 1970s, creating a vibrant art form that takes on contemporary topics, uses a variety of media, and is widely collected.
Curated by Emil Her Many Horses (Oglala Lakota), Unbound features historic masterworks from the museum’s collections by fourteen artists—11 of them known by name—including: Long Soldier (Lakota/Nakota), Mountain Chief (Blackfeet), Bear’s Heart (Southern Cheyenne), Zo-tom (Kiowa), Black Chicken (Yanktonnai), Canté-wani′ća/No Heart (Yanktonai), Chief Washakie (Shoshone), Spotted Tail (Crow), Old Buffalo (Lakota/Nakota), Rain In The Face (Lakota), and Ćehu′pa/Jaw (Hunkpapa Lakota).
The exhibition also unveils new works commissioned by the museum exclusively for Unbound by Dr. Ronald Burgess (Comanche), Sherman Chaddlesone (Kiowa), David Dragonfly (Pikuni), Lauren Good Day Giago(Arikara/Hidatsa/Blackfeet/ Plains Cree), Darryl Growing Thunder (Assiniboine/Sioux), Juanita Growing Thunder Fogarty (Assiniboine/Sioux),Terrance Guardipee (Blackfeet), Vanessa Jennings (Kiowa/Pima), Dallin Maybee (Arapaho), Chester Medicine Crow (Apsáalooke [Crow]), Chris Pappan (Kaw Nation/Osage/Cheyenne River Sioux), Joe Pulliam (Lakota), Martin E. Red Bear (Oglala Lakota), Norman Frank Sheridan (Southern Cheyenne/Arapaho), Dwayne Wilcox (Oglala/Lakota), Jim Yellowhawk(Cheyenne River Lakota).
Generous support for the project is provided by Ameriprise Financial.
**Photo details: Lauren Good Day Giago (Sahnish [Arikara]/Minitari [Hidatsa]/Niitsitapii [Blackfoot/Blackfeet]/Plains Cree), A Warrior’s Story, Honoring Grandpa Blue Bird, 2012. Muslin, wool cloth, dye, brass, cotton thread, brass beads, satin ribbon, imitation sinew. Purchase made possible by Devon Hutchins. Photo by R.A. Whiteside, NMAI. (26/8817).