Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
UALR retired professor Bill Wiggins’ first-rate collection of contemporary Native American art at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock hangs from floor to ceiling in Gallery I in the Fine Arts Center, a riotously overwhelming presentation.
Wiggins’ idea, gallery assistant Nathan Larson says, was to present the work democratically — highlighting not one artist but the variety of work being made by Indian artists, showing people coming to the art for the first time the forest rather than the trees.
The work is hung so low on the wall that visitors must crawl about on the floor to see some of it — including some of the best paintings — and it is there on one’s hands and knees that one will realize that there’s more here than could possibly be seen in a single visit. This forest is a collection of all sorts of art, all sorts of artists, a collection that could be richly exploited one tree at a time. And so it will, if UALR can fulfill its promise to its former faculty member that it will construct a separate building for the Sequoyah Research Center and Native American Press Archives now stuffed into the Ottenheimer Library.
A walk around the gallery can detect certain thematic attributes: Much here is highly stylized profiles of figures in native dress — like the detailed works on ledger paper in the style of 19th century art by Plains Indians — and symbolic designs. In this vein is Ojibwa painter Blake Debassige’s picture of a man and a woman in profile on either side of a tree reaching out to one another with claw-like fingers. The painting is flat, the colorful palette vivid against a white background, leaves and arms and bodies outlined in precise brushstrokes.
When the subjects of the work are facing the viewer, the message is generally more pointed. “A Place is Not Our Home” by Cherokee painter Manyi-Ten depicts three Native Americans walking in a forest; they are old and sad and the woods are a lifeless white. Viewers familiar with the work of Carroll Cloar will see a similarity in style and tenor.
Breaking the pattern somewhat is the work of Kiowa artist and Henderson State University graduate Jay Benham, whose composition — like amateur snapshots that are slightly out of whack — and color sense is fresh and energetic.
Nearly every painting in the exhibit relies on sharp line, bright colors and objective subject matter; rare is non-objective or impressionistic brush. Some works are childlike, including the naïve and beautiful works by the late Inuit artist Luke Anguhadluq, featured in Gallery II across from the main exhibit.
There are also three-dimensional objects: beaded cradle boards and moccasins and other items and sculpture. This is the last weekend to see the exhibit; the show goes down Dec. 2.
The third annual Seven Wonders Show and Sale of paintings, pottery, glasswork, sculpture, jewelry and accessories comes Friday and Saturday, Nov. 24 and 25, to the Arts Scene Gallery and Market at 201 Maple St., North Little Rock.
Featured artists are Cathy Burns, Nancy Conley, Michele Fox, Jann Greenland, Katina Harper and Leann Bonton, Judy Henderson, Tanya Hollifield, Kandy Jones, Brenda Law, Erin Lorenzen, Judd Mann, Dana Rogers, Susan Strauss, Julie West and Terry Williams. Work is in all media. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days.
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