Renowned Collection of American Indian Art from Fenimore Art Museum Goes on View at The Met on May 9


Potlatch figure holding a copper (detail), c. 1880–1895. Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwakiutl), northwest Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Red cedar, paint, nails, 50 x 13.5 x 15 in. Thaw Collection of American Indian Art, Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York. Photo: Richard Walker

Exhibition Dates:
May 9–October 8, 2017

Exhibition Location:
The Met Fifth Avenue, Gallery 359

A selection of 38 superb works of art created by Native North American artists will go on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art beginning May 9. Drawn from the more than 870 pieces assembled by philanthropists Eugene and Clare Thaw, American Indian Art from the Fenimore Art Museum: The Thaw Collection attests to the long-standing excellence of the aesthetic traditions of North America’s Native peoples. Spanning the first millennium to the 20th century, it will showcase indigenous masterpieces in various media—sculpture, painting, drawing, basketry, textiles, ceramics, and decorative arts. Among the highlights are a rare whelk shell gorget (ca.1100–1400) carved by a Mississippian sculptor; a monumental war record (ca. 1880) vividly painted on animal hide by Plains masters; a rare, nearly life-size Kwakwaka’wakw potlatch figure from the late 19th century; and a waterproof Kamleika garment (or parka) made of seal or other sea-mammal gut from the Arctic region.

The exhibition is made possible by the Friends of the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.

The exhibition will feature a variety of Native artistic creations, including an ancient Arctic carving made of sea mammal ivory; examples of the dramatic sculptural arts of the Pacific Northwest; painted ceramics and weaving from the millennia-long tradition in the Southwest; refined basketry from California and the Great Basin; iconic pictorial narratives chronicling events of the Plains; and robust aestheticized weaponry of the Eastern Woodlands.

The impressive achievements of female basket weavers from California and the Great Basin region are evident in an award-winning basket made by the renowned practitioner of that art form, Louisa Keyser (or Dat So La Lee); a signature work by her sister-in-law, Scees Bryant Possock; and, by the Yokuts weaver Mrs. Dick Francisco, a monumental woven gambling tray made for a dice game called huuchuish.

Also of great emphasis in this selection of Fenimore holdings is a collection of several singular Plains Indian creations, the most notable of which is a rare 19th-century war record memorializing a battle between the Lakota and Crow (Apsa’alooka). A landmark intact ledger book by the artist Black Hawk (Sans Arcs Lakota) is a treasure trove of information about life on the Plains; it illustrates hunting and dance scenes and includes natural history drawings and numerous depictions of warfare and ceremony.

About the Thaws 

Eugene Thaw is recognized as a leading dealer and collector of Old Master drawings and paintings. Thaw and his wife, Clare, first began acquiring indigenous American art in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1987. From the outset, they approached American Indian material culture as fine art, applying the same exacting standards of connoisseurship as they applied to other areas of their collection. They have engaged in a 30-year quest to assemble exceptional works of art produced by cultures throughout North America, from 500 B.C. to the present. In 1991 the Thaws decided to share their collection with the American public by donating it to the Fenimore Art Museum, where it is on permanent view. Today the collection is the point of departure for a dynamic study of Native American art.

This presentation, in Mr. Thaw’s 90th year, celebrates their role as benefactors to many New York City arts institutions, including the Morgan Library and Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he is an Honorary Trustee.

The exhibition is organized by Eva Fognell, Curator at the Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, in collaboration with Christine Giuntini, Conservator, and with assistance from James Doyle, Assistant Curator, both in The Met’s Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.

Related Publication 

Coinciding with the exhibition is the publication of the second edition of the Thaw collection catalogue raisonné. Art of the North American Indians: The Thaw Collection at the Fenimore Art Museum, a 520-page illustrated catalogue published by the Fenimore Art Museum, includes essays written by leading scholars of Native American art. It will be available for purchase in The Met Store.

The exhibition will be featured on The Met website, as well as on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter via the hashtag #MetAgeofEmpires.

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