Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Story of the Golden Spruce

[Image via]

In light of this week's class conversation on Western Expansion and the removal of the redwoods and sequoias in the 19th century, here is the story of Grant Hadwin cutting down the golden spruce. I was a little fuzzy on the details (it's more dramatic than I remember it to be) and it looks like there is a movie currently in production.

A passage from John Vaillant's New Yorker article follows:

"On the night of January 20, 1997, Grant Hadwin, then forty-seven, stripped off his clothes and plunged into the Yakoun River, towing a chainsaw behind him. The river was swift and the water was cold, but this was no problem for Hadwin, a self-described “extreme swimmer” who had alarmed local police in Whitehorse, Yukon, earlier that winter by spending a quarter of an hour in the Yukon River when the air temperature was thirty-five degrees below zero. The golden spruce was more than six feet in diameter, and Hadwin's chainsaw had only a twenty-five-inch bar, but Hadwin had worked in the timber industry for years, and he knew how to make falling cuts. Leaving just enough of the core intact so that the tree would stand until the next windstorm, he returned by ferry from the island to the mainland port town of Prince Rupert. Shortly afterward, copies of a letter he had drafted were received by Greenpeace, the Vancouver Sun, members of the Haida Nation, and MacMillan Bloedel, Canada's biggest lumber company, which had a timber lease on the land on which the golden spruce stood. The letter said, in part:

I didn't enjoy butchering, this magnificent old plant, but you apparently need a message and wake-up call, that even a university trained professional, should be able to understand. . . . I mean this action, to be an expression, of my rage and hatred, towards university trained professionals and their extremist supporters, whose ideas, ethics, denials, part truths, attitudes, etc., appear to be responsible, for most of the abominations, towards amateur life on this planet.

The golden spruce fell a couple of days later. Locally, the reaction was extraordinary. “It was like a drive-by shooting in a small town,” one resident of the islands told me. “People were crying; they were in shock. They felt enormous guilt for not protecting the tree better.” This was in part because, according to Haida legend, the golden spruce represented a person; and, later, a public memorial service for the tree, presided over by several Haida chiefs, was held “to mourn one of our ancestors.” But beyond the mourning, some Haida, as well as residents of the mostly white logging community of Port Clements (where the tree had stood), wanted revenge."

Jacinda Russell

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Native American Culture: America Before the European Invasions

This week in the course we moved into the Native American culture.  Between the members of the group we talked about the culture, the arts, the land use, and the conflict of colonization of the Western Indians and its lasting effects.

Buffalo Robe, c. 1890

Native American art is rich in spirituality and using the earth. This is apparent in the culture of the Great Plains tribes. From their traditional clothing made from buffalo hide to the natural paints and dyes, hair, feathers, amongst other earthy materials. The Native Americans of the West are traditionally not wasteful people. Everything they can use from the killing of a buffalo they use. From the hide they wear and make tipis with, to the meat to feed their tribe, down to the bones that they use for tools and weaponry. Southwestern Native Americans built their homes into the land and used the movement of the sun to their best advantage. With the settling of the West by the Europeans, all of the Native Americans of the West were affected with a culture clash.

Arapaho Artist, Ghost Dance Dress, 1890s

The European settlers traveled west, moving the Native Americans from their sacred homelands. Not only that, but they hunted the buffalo nearly to extinction, taking away the Great Plains Indian’s main source of food and livelihood. The European settlers forced the Native Americans onto reservations, where their lifestyles changed dramatically. This time in Native American history came to be known as the Reservation Era. This era is characterized by the living a sedentary life and moving to areas and into homes much unlike the tipis they were used to. The change was strange and new, but it did not stop them from creating a lot of their traditional art. The era actually allowed them to adopt modern European ideas and tools, so they were able to create with new mediums as well. Women still wove baskets in the far West tribes and used feathers, beads and quills to adorn clothing and objects. Men and women alike created totem poles, painted their histories, made pottery, and now they created collages, amongst other modern art forms. They were resilient people to everything they faced.

Louisa Keyser, Washoe Polychrome Basket (Collected on 20 March 1913)

The Reservation Era was further discussed and we looked into how Native American traditions of the Southwest have evolved, influenced today’s artists and still thrives in the art world today. David W. Penny, author of the Chapter 4:The Southwest reading explains how Santa Fe still has an art market selling Native American’s work today. He points out several traditional forms of work such as, painted pottery, Kachinas, textiles and jewelry. Pottery was created with lots of symbolism and used similarly to how the Great Plains tries recorded histories on tipis. They used similar geometric designs and told stories though this art form. Even through the changes that the Europeans left on their culture, it is still apparent that they hold onto their traditions by the art they continue to make. All the beautiful hand-crafted objects that Native Americans create are a great art form, but it is also important to understand their history and how they are today. 

Acoma Pueblo, Sky City, New Mexico

The articles* each gave a descriptive background to the areas of tribes in the West. For example, the colonization leads to one of the biggest revolts by Native Americans called the Pueblo Revolt. This revolt leads to the Pueblo War of Independence ending in a twelve-year liberation from Spanish rule. There are some reservations in use today, drastically less than were created then. Some of the Southwestern Native American reservation settlements of the West are considered to be fantastic marvels today. Acoma Pueblo, as one example, which is also called Sky City, is a tourist destination today. 

Arthur Amiotte, The Visit, 1995 (collage)

It was important to include the class’s general knowledge of the Native American culture. During discussion we encouraged the sharing of personal encounters with the art, peoples, and the culture because it can be difficult to relate to something that happened centuries ago.  We believed this created an overall better understanding of the lifestyle Native Americans live then and today. It also gave the class the opportunity to talk about things that have happen more recently, after the articles’ publications. This kept the conversation interesting and recent. Overall, the reading, planning, presentation and discussion were all a part of a great learning experience. 

Ashley Vandervelde, Mikayla Carpenter, and Trevor Campbell 

* Janet C. Berlo and Ruth B. Phillips, "The West," in Native North American Art; David W. Penney, "The Southwest" in North American Indian Art; Colin G. Calloway, First Peoples: A Documentary Survey of American Indian History; and Akim D. Reinhardt, "Native America: The Indigenous," in Western Places, American Myths: How We Think about the West

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Field Trip to Indianapolis

What follows is a one person's biased account of a class visit to the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art. The trip to the IMA coincided with the exhibition, Georgia O'Keeffe and the Southwestern Still Life (no photos allowed hence their absence here). The Eiteljorg's collection complemented our discussion of Native American art last week and foreshadowed next week's topic on Western Expansion through the lens of photography and painting.

Edward Curtis' Coming for the Bride, Q√°gyuhi, 1941 may have been the most frightening photograph in the Eiteljorg's collection.

Inuit whale bone carvings including a man and a bear (top)

Sioux purse, c. 1890

Finally miniature tipis suitable for my cats (that dream of owning an REI tent model may have disappeared upon viewing this).

This is a terrible photograph because it was very dark. A theme of the day was the incorporation of technology into the display and that was also evident at the Eiteljorg. Here is a peace necklace next to a cell phone from the early 2000s that belonged to a tribe elder.

Richard Swanson's Radio, 1997 "suggested radio waves traveling through space." It was constructed from barbed wire which may be as important as gravel in our conversations about the West.

Rick Bartow, Fox Spirit, 2000

Collette Hosmer, Bucket with Dipper, 1998 (minnows and steel)

 Albert Bierstadt, Morning Thirst (Mount Hood)

We transition to Erwin Wurm's Euclidean Exercises at the IMA. Two hot dog sculptures were installed in between the early American and European galleries (wishing they were positioned in front of a Bierstadt).

Erwin Wurm's Estimate the Mass of Wood

Nikki demonstrating how difficult this is with Dan observing.

The instructions for Theory of Painting (photo courtesy of Kyla Tighe)...

... and the results thereof (photographs by Kyla Tighe, Sarah Lassiter, Kristina Powell, and Jacinda Russell)

Kyla holding two shoes in an awkward position (photo by Kristina Powell).

Erwin Wurm's Organization of Love instructions ...

as Sibley and Dan demonstrate.

Jacinda Russell

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Discovering the American West

[Photo by J. Russell]

Space, Land, and Concept in Art of the American West is all about discovery. The eighteen of us are spending sixteen weeks starting in January 2015 to explore the art, culture, and mythologies that exist in and pervade our understanding of the American West. This blog will document our conversations and will serve as a travelogue in May when we travel from Muncie, Indiana to Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah.

[Missouri Territory, Formerly Louisiana, image via]

To get us started we debated our various definitions of the “American West.” Not surprisingly we haven’t quite figured out what we mean by that term. We know it’s not here in Indiana, though at one point our state might have represented an unknown frontier. Some of us think the West begins at the Mississippi River. Some think it ends at the Pacific Ocean. Some think Texas is part of the West; others are not so sure. We all did agree, however, that to understand the West you have to (or at least will want to) go there and that this class will make us look differently at our own Midwestern terrain.

Our starting point has been Lucy Lippard’s 2014 book, Undermining: A Wild Ride Through Land Use, Politics, and Art in the Changing West, which was a fascinating account of the challenges of land, water, and resource management; the impact of the nuclear age; and many different types of artistic encounters. And of course, we all learned way more about gravel than we ever anticipated. Lippard’s text delighted some of us who got swept up in the momentum of her lyrical prose. Others were frustrated because they craved a more distinct narrative structure or wanted to read more about solutions to the problems the author exposed. No matter what, however, this book was a lucky find for us as it really does introduce all of the issues that we knew we wanted to cover this semester. It lays out a lot of options for art history students to consider as research topics and for studio art students to use as inspiration for their own interventions.

The members of this group (Sibley, Trevor, Mikayla, Tracy, Sarah, Dan, Lexi, Nicole, Kristina, Nikki, Kyla, Ashley, Alyson, Noelle, Grif, Jacinda, and Lara) used lots of evocative terms to describe their understanding of and questions about Lippard’s book and the American West at this point in the semester: progress, preservation, random, narrow, easy, staunch, pessimism, disgust, rambling, digest, successful, educate, enabler, anger, money, greed, overwhelming, shame, responsibility, love, contempt, imbalance, questioning, oppression, glorified, politics, corruption, community, commodity, new, respect, and mind-blowing. We latched on to such quotes as, “Culture is a far broader term than art and can embrace social energies not yet recognized as art,” “If the modern city is vertical (a climb leading to a penthouse overview), landscape is predominantly horizontal (a walk, through all walks of life). Like archeology which is time read backwards, gravel mines are metaphorically cities turned upside down, though urban culture unaware of its origins and rural birthplaces,” and “Art’s purpose, as defined by James Baldwin, is ‘to lay bare the questions which have been hidden by the answers.’” And we asked questions about how our work as artists (or historians or critics) can impact the world around us, the difference between “land” and “place,” and what to make of large-scale, long-term earth art and the tourism it generates.

And this is only the beginning.

Lara Kuykendall