Growing a National Treasure
OU museums lead the nation in depth and breadth of Native American art
The Native American Studies Department at OU has rich resources at hand, including OU's Western History Collections and the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History. And since 1996, the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art has grown to become a national treasure for the study of Native American art.
The acquisition that year of the Richard H. and Adeline J. Fleischaker Collection, followed by gifts from Dr. and Mrs. R.E. Mansfield, and Charles H. and Miriam S. Hogan, established OU as a regional center for the study of Indigenous art. With the arrival of the Eugene B. Adkins Collection in 2007, the Rennard Strickland Collection in 2008, and the James T. Bialac Collection in 2010, the OU museum became fully representative of the developments in Native American art throughout the 20th century, with more to come.
A knowledgeable collector, Jim Bialac continues to purchase and donate contemporary works to the Fred Jones, including the sifter basket pictured above. “Separating the Chaff,” by Cherokee artist Shan Goshorn, is one example of how 21st-century Native art can function on two levels: preserving traditional beauty while making a statement of what it is to be Indian today.
When filled with cracked grain and gently shaken, the large weave at the base of a sifter basket would allow husks to fall through while retaining the desirable kernel. The woven splints of “Separating the Chaff” are printed with illustrations and text from 1960s reference books that were used to teach American children about Native cultures. The basket is meant to show that Indian people need to decide how they want to portray themselves and actively filter through the misperceptions and untruths. Goshorn has been named as one of 25 United States Artists Fellows, as has Diego Romero, who is also in the museum's collection. Nominated by their peers and experts in their fields, the USA Fellows receive $50,000 in unrestricted awards for fresh perspectives, unique artistic vision and impact in their field.
Building on the strength of the museum’s collections, its curator, OU professors and graduate interns have been developing exhibitions that recognize the arts as a critical form of communication for oral-based cultures. Their original scholarship is helping to connect materials, designs and metaphors with tribal knowledge expressed in art from pre-Columbian pottery to modern printmaking.
The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art is located at 555 Elm Avenue. Admission is always free. For more on the museum, click here.
heather ahtone is the James T. Bialac Associate Curator of Native American and Non-Western Art at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.