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Browse: Native American Artists

Thomas Gilcrease sought to tell the story of America through art, with an emphasis on Native American cultures and the history of the American West. The museum founder’s fundamental interest in Native cultures was due in part to his own Muscogee ancestry. Evidence of his interest is dramatically illustrated by the vast amount of Native art and cultural items he gathered. Collectors of Native American art objects often place a premium on them in accordance with their relative age. Gilcrease knew the value of that practice, yet he also knew the importance of collecting contemporary Native art. He was patron to numerous artists of his time and purchased over 500 paintings by 20th-century Native artists. As a result, the museum not only tells the story of Native Americans through exhibition of objects thousands of years old, but also through modern paintings and sculptures.

Collision of Heavenly Structures

Collision of Heavenly Structures explores the space between Osage concepts of cosmology and elements of Western religion. The abstract Neo-Expressionist painting combines symbolism and a metaphoric diagram of the Osage universe created by Ha pa shu tsi (Redcorn), and references Osage ethnographic records compiled by anthropologist James O. Dorsey.1 The painting is situated within the nuanced dichotomy of the two-worlds concept, where Indigenous and colonial realities collide.

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Pueblo Green Corn Dance

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Buffalo at Sunset

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White Swan muslin cutting

This watercolor, ink, and graphite work on muslin was painted by White Swan, a Crow war hero; however, it appears to have been cut from a larger coup-count painting, as White Swan himself is not depicted. Indigenous peoples in the Northern Plains practiced storytelling through figurative painting for centuries. Crow wartime records such as coup counts and battle narratives were painted by the warriors who had participated in combat. The battle narrative here features late nineteenth-century Apsáalooke warriors on horseback as they encounter a number of opponents, including warriors from other tribes and the U.S. Cavalry. The figures are arranged in combat scenes, with each encounter depicting both the tribulations and the victories of a particular moment during war. While there is no ground or background, White Swan has arranged the battle spatially in a series of sequences that situate individual Apsáalooke warriors in time. On the left, four painted tipis representing family homes line the edge of the battleground.

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The Sign in the Fall

The Sign in the Fall depicts a Kiowa (Cáuigù)1 husband and wife seated atop a hill witnessing a seasonal event. The man, with one arm around his wife, points to the sign mentioned in the title: the sun, low on the horizon, with rings. He wears an eagle feather on his braided scalp lock, which falls down his back, and his hair is parted and braided, with two beaded adornments tied to the braids at the nape of his neck. A bandolier consisting of two strands of mescal beans falls from his left shoulder, and a yellow medicine tie fastens the strands together; both of these objects relate to spiritual practices. He wears a red wool breechcloth with a beaded knife sheath on his belt, and his beaded, loom-worked garters are tied below the kneecap. His moccasins are painted and beaded. A hand-carved flute lies on the ground behind the couple.

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Creek Chiefs

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Chief and Friends

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Peyote Religious Ceremony

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Sneaking Out

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Preparation for the Ribbon Dance

The prolific painter Solomon McCombs (Muscogee) graduated from Bacone College (Muskogee, Oklahoma), where he studied Indigenous art under the direction of Acee Blue Eagle. McCombs’s casein on paper Preparation for the Ribbon Dance centers on a Muscogee woman who is attended by two matriarchs as they prepare for a Muscogee ceremony.

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Creek Indian Ceremonial Dance

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Medicine Woman

Medicine Woman by Ruthe Blalock Jones (Delaware, Shawnee, Peoria) calls attention to the modest yet profound roles played by women within the Native American Church (NAC). Blalock Jones was raised in the NAC, and this artwork acknowledges a connection between her personal experience and the shared experiences of medicine women. Blurring the lines between realism and the Flatstyle techniques that became synonymous with Indigenous art produced in Oklahoma in the early twentieth century, Medicine Woman provides an intimate, first-person commentary that illuminates the interplay between presence and absence, between hypervisibility and invisibility in the portrayal of femininity and ceremonial space.

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Forest Scene

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Chief Little Raven on His War Pony

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Corn Dance

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Woman in Window

Caddo and Kiowa (Cáuigù)1 artist T. C. Cannon often drew upon the techniques of the Post-Impressionist and Fauvist movements in his vibrant works. For his woodblock print Woman in Window, which also references complex conceptions of the representation of Indigenous women, Cannon collaborated with two Japanese masters whose signatures are in the lower right, woodblock carver Kentaro Maeda and printer Matashiro Uchikawa. The woman’s red-dyed Northern Plains–style wool dress is adorned with stars on the sleeves, indicating her participation in the Ghost Dance. The front of the dress features yellow cowrie shells and the collar is decorated with gold bugle beads, with a cross from a rosary stitched near the collarbone; she wears five-tier earrings. The cream-colored stripes at the shoulders and cuffs are an homage to the U.S. Army wool remnants supplied to Indigenous communities through trade and government rationing. An ornate pattern of red paint appears to drip down her face from the part in her hair.

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For John Ridge

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International Peace Effort

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Gathering Corn

Norma Howard (Choctaw, Chickasaw), a self-taught artist from Oklahoma, is widely recognized for her touching family scenes, and her subjects often include women and children engaged in everyday activities. Howard’s style is reminiscent of pointillism, except that she achieves her effects through the repetition of small, weave-like, painterly strokes rather than dots.

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