November 21, 2022

Native American Sampler (Part I)

        November being Native American Heritage Month, I was trying to find some relief block printmaking from Native American artists.  Not surprisingly, the cultures that seem inclined to produce the most relief block prints are those from the far north and northwest coast, and you can revisit one particular aspect of that in my previous post about Inuit Stone Block Prints.  Of course artists work in all sorts of media, so I didn’t end up finding a huge number of relief block prints, but I did find enough that I couldn’t share all I wanted to in one post.  So this is Part I, focussing on images of people.
        I’ll start with the most iconic images, two men in profile, with stern expressions and distinctive headdresses.  Both are powerful men, the first entitled “Pride,” and the second “Enchanter.”  I especially like the bold, simplified geometric shapes of the enchanter.  One of my goals in selecting pieces to share was to find the work of artists from a variety of Nations.  
The first is Diné (Navajo), and the second Hopi-Tewa, which are both from the American southwest area.  These pieces were also both made in the 1970s.
        Next is a woman from the same southwest region (Akimel O’odham (Pima)) and era.  Because she is somewhat turned away, we see only a glimpse of her face, but we see that she carries a pot in her arm, and a beautiful basket on her head.  The second woman faces towards us, although she gazes slightly aside.  She is Sacajawea, who was a Lemhi Shoshone woman, and here she’s depicted by an Onondaga woman.  This piece was commissioned for the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition for which Sacajawea was a guide.
        This fisherman hails from the north (Unangan (Aleut)), and I particularly like the net and fish, as well as the wood texture on the boat.  I’m guessing, based on the bits of information describing the next piece, that it was made by a Sioux artist who was living at the time in New Mexico.  I can’t help but wonder whether this “Old Man In The Desert” is therefore inspired by the artist’s experience, if not actually being a self-portrait.  The composition is interesting, with the front of the man’s face off the edge of the picture, and his back to the sun.  It certainly looks like a rather harsh sun, but I think the man is grinning, although I guess it could be more of a grimace.  What do you think?
        The next piece is my favorite of all of these, with the carving giving such powerful expression to the faces.  It’s another by a Diné (Navajo) artist.  And the final piece also focusses on a face.  I think I’d like it better without the red block, but I do like the use of texture and pattern.  The knitted scarf is a representational use of texture, while the background is abstract patterns, but there is also unexpected texture on the face.  I don’t know who the subject is, but the artist is Mewuk (Miwok), which is a group from northern California.
        These pieces represent a diversity of style, although most of them come from the 1960s and ’70s, and many were made at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe.  From what I could find (while absolutely being no expert) that seems to have been one of the few major areas of relief printmaking among Native American artists, other than those in the far north and northwest.  At any rate, tune in next post to continue my celebration of Native American Heritage Month with block prints of animals.

[Pictures: Pride, woodblock print by Dwayne J. Holiday, 1978 (Image from Smithsonian);

Enchanter, woodblock print by Ted Pavatea, 1971-3 (Image from Smithsonian);

Pima Lady, woodblock print by Tony Mattia, 1978 (Image from Smithsonian);

A Note to Lewis and Clark’s Ghosts, linoleum block print by Gail Tremblay, 2004 (Image from Smithsonian);

Fisherman, woodblock print by Alexandra Backford, 1965 (Image from Smithsonian);

Old Man In The Desert, woodblock print by James Holmes, 1963-80 (Image from Smithsonian);

The Tragedy, woodblock print by R.C. Gorman, 1964 (Image from Smithsonian);

Christine, woodblock print by Brenda J. Holden, 1968 (Image from Smithsonian).]

No comments: