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More than 100 Works from the Thaw Collection Showcase Artistry of Cultures Across Millennia
Dance Goggles with Whale’s-Tail Nose,Old Bering Sea Eskimo, Alaska or Siberia. Thaw Collection, Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, N.Y., T0811. Photo: John Bigelow Taylor.
CLEVELAND, OH.- Art of the American Indians: The Thaw Collection, a major traveling exhibition, developed by the Fenimore Art Museum, making its debut at the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) in March 2010, explores Native North American art from the Eastern Woodlands to the Northwest through more than 140 masterpieces spanning 2,000 years. The exhibition provides visitors with a broad understanding and appreciation of the aesthetic accomplishments and cultural heritage of this country’s first peoples. Art of the American Indians opens at CMA on March 7, 2010, and runs through May 30 before traveling to Minneapolis and Indianapolis.

The objects in the exhibition are drawn from the Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of Native North American Art, which was carefully assembled over the past two decades by Eugene V. Thaw, one of the art world’s most distinguished connoisseurs and collectors of art. This is the first time this collection is being treated as an exhibition and several key objects will only be seen at the Cleveland venue.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to see an extraordinary range of Native North American works of the highest quality, each piece a paragon of creativity and artistic excellence,” said Sue Bergh, associate curator of Pre-Columbian and Native North American art, CMA. “In Eugene Thaw’s own words, ‘Indian material culture stands rightfully with ancient art masterpieces of Asia and Europe as their equivalent.’ We are delighted to offer visitors this opportunity to more deeply examine this fascinating dimension of the American experience and history.”

The works in Art of the American Indians are organized by geographic regions, moving from the ancient ivories and ingenious modern masks of the Arctic to the astonishingly beautiful and dramatic arts of the Pacific Northwest, which form one of the pillars of the Thaw Collection. The basketry of Native weavers appears in a section devoted to California and the adjacent Great Basin, home of Louisa Keyser (also known as Dat So La Lee), a renowned Washoe basket weaver and one of the most celebrated Native artists. Beacon Lights, Keyser’s most famous creation, will be a centerpiece of the exhibition.

The abstract art of the culturally complex Southwest will be shown in both its ancient and modern manifestations. From the Plains come outstanding examples of the colorful beaded, feathered, and painted works for which the region is most famous. Finally are the Eastern Woodlands, including the Great Lakes, and their visually quieter and more contemplative arts, which are another of the collection’s great strengths.

The majority of the 120 piece collection dates to the 19th century, but archaeological and contemporary works also are included to demonstrate the continued vitality of Native North American cultures. Twenty CMA objects will also appear at the Cleveland venue.

Exhibition highlights include:

+ Shaman's Mask, Tlingit people, Northwest Coast – A magnificently malevolent mask that directly manifests a powerful spirit being who helped a shaman intermediate between the worlds of matter and spirit: an octopus, signaled by sucker disks on the cheeks and the peaked, beak-like mouth.

+ Crane Mask, Yup'ik people, Arctic – This mask, one of the finest that survives, is part of a nearly identical female-male pair that danced together. Each crane strains forward and flutters its wings protectively around a figure on its breast, one a sick shaman and the other perhaps a helper coming to the shaman’s aid. (Cleveland only)

+ Painted Drum, Pawnee people, Plains – Throwing lightning from its beak, a thunderbird dives from black clouds into a threatening yellow sky as a flock of swallows, the storm’s harbingers, scatters like wind-blown leaves. Beneath, in a small center of calm, a man offers a pipe upward. (Cleveland only)

+ Basket, Louisa Keyser (Dat So La Lee), Washoe – A national treasure made by one of the most legendary basketmakers in North America. (Cleveland only)


Cleveland Museum of Art | American Indians | Sue Bergh |


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