Indelible: The Platinum Photographs of Larry McNeil and Will Wilson

June 07, 2014–January 15, 2015
Washington, DC

By the end of the 19th century, the platinum print process was of primary importance to art photographers—valued for its permanence, wide tonal variation, and “fuzzy” aesthetic. Photographers such as Edward S. Curtis, Gertrude Käsebier, and Joseph Keiley famously printed their photographs of North American Indians on platinum paper, using the prints’ highly romanticizing softness to represent the “Vanishing Race.”

Larry McNeil (Tlingit/Nisgaá) and Will Wilson (Diné/Bilagaana) challenge this visual ideology. McNeil uses the platinum process to topple expectations of what constitutes the Native portrait and, more generally, Western conceptions of portraiture. Wilson creates portraits of “today’s Indians” on metal plates, then digitizes the plates, makes large-scale digital negatives from the scanned images, and uses historic printing processes in a wet darkroom—calling attention to the manufactured nature of all photographic images.

For a Love of His People: The Photography of Horace Poolaw

August 09, 2014–February 15, 2015
New York, NY

Horace Poolaw (Kiowa, 1906–84) was born during a time of great change for his people—one year before Oklahoma statehood and six years after the U.S. government approved an allotment policy that ended the reservation period. A rare American Indian photographer who documented Indian subjects, he began making a visual history in the mid-1920s and continued for the next 50 years.

Poolaw photographed his friends and family and events important to them—weddings, funerals, parades, fishing, driving cars, going on dates, going to war, playing baseball. When he sold his photos at fairs and community events, he often stamped the reverse: “A Poolaw Photo, Pictures by an Indian, Horace M. Poolaw, Anadarko, Okla.” Not simply by “an Indian,” but by a Kiowa man strongly rooted in his multi-tribal community, Poolaw’s work celebrates his subjects’ place in American life and preserves an insider’s perspective on a world few outsiders are familiar with—the Native America of the Southern Plains during the mid-20th century.

Organized around the central theme of Poolaw as a man of his community and time, For a Love of His People is based on the Poolaw Photography Project, a research initiative established by Poolaw’s daughter Linda in 1989 at Stanford University and carried on by Native scholars Nancy Marie Mithlo (Chiricahua Apache) and Tom Jones (Ho-Chunk) of the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Nation to Nation: Treaties between the United States and American Indian Nations

September 21, 2014–January 01, 2018
Washington, DC

From a young age, most Americans learn about the Founding Fathers, but are told very little about equally important and influential Native diplomats and leaders of Indian nations. Treaties lie at the heart of the relationship between Indian nations and the United States, and Nation to Nation: Treaties between the United States and American Indian Nations is the story of that relationship, including the history and legacy of U.S.–American Indian diplomacy from the colonial period through the present.

Glittering World: Navajo Jewelry of the Yazzie Family

November 13, 2014–January 11, 2016
New York, NY

Jewelry making has long been an important part of the lives of Southwest Native peoples. During the last 50 years, Native jewelers in the Southwest—Navajos in particular—have created a contemporary aesthetic that draws on traditional materials and reflects the persistence of cultural values such as beauty, centering, and balance.

Glittering World presents the story of Navajo jewelry through the lens of the gifted Yazzie family of Gallup, New Mexico—one of the most celebrated jewelry making families of our time. The silver, gold, and stone inlay work of Lee Yazzie and his younger brother, Raymond, has won every major award in the field. Their sister Mary Marie makes outstanding jewelry that combines fine bead- and stonework; silver beads are handmade by other sisters.

Glittering World—featuring almost 300 examples of contemporary jewelry made by several members of the Yazzie family—shows how the family’s art flows from their Southwest environs and strong connection to their Navajo culture. With historic pieces from the museum’s collections, the exhibition places Navajo jewelry making within its historical context of art and commerce, illustrates its development as a form of cultural expression, and explores the meanings behind its symbolism.

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