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Harvest Celebration of the First Fruits / Joan Hill, December 19, 1930 - June 16, 2020, Native American; Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek) (Artist)

Essay/Description

Here, Joan Hill’s use of color-blocking and dry-brush techniques echoes the Flatstyle depictions of ceremony by early twentieth-century Indigenous Oklahoma artists. The composition of Harvest Celebration of the First Fruits is like a single frame from a storyboard sequence, and Hill has included a wealth of detail that offers viewers a glimpse into this celebration.

In the foreground, a meticulously placed bounty sits on the edge of a circle. From left to right are a plate of root vegetables, a platter of corn, a basket containing nuts or grains, a clay vessel with an effigy bird head, a platter of wild grapes, and another basket. The final platter holds a turtle-shell rattle. A ceremonial fire carries linear smoke upward toward the sky. The man is dressed for the ceremony in leggings, a breechcloth with a sash, and special adornments, some of which correlate to the harvest celebration. Small blue flowers near the man’s right moccasin may provide additional insight into when the ceremony took place, which, from the appearance of the tree, is either early spring, late fall, or the dead of winter. Cues such as this are important indicators of time of year, and artists used them to signal months that coincided with Indigenous ceremonies or significant events.

A thin ocher horizon line delineates the mid-ground from the background, and the white earth and tree contrast sharply with the vivid blue sky. A cardinal is perched within the tree’s leafless limbs, and we see a red sunset between its bare branches. The structure in the background is an ancestral mound. The painting hearkens to Hill’s profound interconnections to her Muscogee heritage through subject matter, particularly her relationship to the land and the cultural practices of her moundbuilder ancestors.

—Jordan Poorman Cocker, Henry Luce Foundation Curatorial Scholar for Indigenous Painting Collection Research, 2021

Hill's "Harvest Celebration of the First Fruits" won The Five Civilized Tribes Museum's "Best of Show" award in 2004.
-Alicia Perkins, Associate Regsitrar

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Title(s): 
Harvest Celebration of the First Fruits
Creator(s): 
Joan Hill, December 19, 1930 - June 16, 2020, Native American; Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek) (Artist)
Culture: 
Native American; Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek)
Date: 
2004
Materials/Techniques: 
acrylic on canvas
Classification: 
Object Type: 
Credit Line: 
Gift from the Collection of Maxine and Jack Zarrow
Accession No: 
01.2548
Previous Number(s): 
TL2010.7.1; 2010.07.01
Department: 
Signed by hand in acrylic with colophon, "Joan Hill (chea-se-quah) '04" in lower right on recto; Signed by hand in ink, “Joan Hill (chea-se-quah)” on upper stretcher bar in center right on verso; Notes in the artist's hand; Inscribed by hand in ink, "Best of Show 2004 5 Tribes Museum" on upper stretcher bar in center left on verso; Inscribed in print in ink, ""HARVEST CELEBRATION OF THE FIRST FRUITS" The Unagai was a Beloved man of the ancient Cherokees, a priestly orator who was the custodian of law. Once a year at the celebration of the first fruits, the Unagai recited the law of the Spirits, interpreting the meaning of history and tradition from the ancient and sacred Wampum belts. During this annual Thanksgiving celebration all crimes of the past year were forgiven in the smoke of the sacred fire which was an agent of the Spirit Being who created the world. Joan Hill” on attached piece of paper in top center on verso; Inscribed by hand in ink, “creek tribal member with documented cherokee ancestry” on upper stretcher bar in center on verso; Inscribed by hand in ink, “40 ½ X 32 ½ X 1 ½” on upper stretcher bar in center right on verso; Inscribed by hand in ink, “to MAXine & Jack Zarrow thank you for your gracious tour” sideways on left stretcher bar in top corner on verso.
Not On View

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