“Students, your ancestors left messages for you. They’re downstairs.”
That’s Tirzah Camacho (Laguna Pueblo) admonishing Fort Lewis College art students in a wall text at Center of Southwest Studies. The FLC graduate is a local artist who was invited to stir up enthusiasm for a new exhibition open now through April.
“Throughline: FLC Student Works Inspired by the Center’s Collections,” culminates the vision of Elise Boulanger, a recent graduate with a studio art major and minors in art history and anthropology. She’s also an Osage descendant and citizen. Boulanger invited Camacho, along with another local professional artist, Garrett Etsitty (Diné), to assist her in developing the exhibition.
“I’ve been a curatorial intern at the Center for three years, and I’ve wanted to find a way to connect students with the wonderful objects in the Center’s collections,” Boulanger said.
From the beginning, Boulanger envisioned one-on-one discussions with current students to encourage a connection between objects and personal stories. She invited fellow students to view the center’s ceramics, textiles, prints and paintings, and then select one or two that sparked an emotional link to personal identity. Then Boulanger took the process a step further. She suggested broader research through the center’s online avenues as well as contacting established Native American artists.
“Way last year, before COVID and winter break, I recruited three students,” Boulanger said. Three blossomed into 15 potential exhibitors by the end of the academic year. “Every student had the option to choose one or more pieces and commit to the exhibition.”
WHAT: “Throughline: FLC Student Works Inspired by the Center’s Collections,” curated by Elise Boulanger.
WHEN: Now through April 2022. Fall hours by appointment: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Thursday.
WHERE: Center of Southwest Studies at Fort Lewis College, 1000 Rim Drive.
TICKETS: Free admission.
MORE INFORMATION: By appointment only. Contact the Center at 247-7456 or visit http://swcenter.fortlewis.edu.
“Throughline” pairs student works with their chosen objects from the center’s collections. As a bonus, the exhibit also illuminates the artistic process. In her text panels and descriptive labels for each pairing, curator Boulanger reveals her inspiration and the creative process.
FLC student Qootsvenma Denipah-Cook (Ohkay Owingeh, Hopi, Diné) submitted a skateboard he titled “Living Life.” He explains in his text that he was inspired by a Hopi shirt. Both are exhibited next to each other. It’s an excellent introduction to the entire exhibit.
Other pairings, from the humble to the sophisticated, exhibit a sense of discovery. They include: a commercial blue bottle in the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe; three Osage cloth dolls; a squash-blossom necklace made out of quarters; a striking 1986 Northwest Coast print by Patrick Amos; a magnificent Allen Bahe (Diné) painting; and two blind embossed prints by R.C. Gorman (Diné) and Fritz Scholder (La Jolla Band of Luisaño Tribe).
The latter requires very close attention as the printing technique calls for no ink. The “image” is a ghost-like white-on-white illusion.
The Gorman and Scholder prints apparently inspired Hannah Jacks (Cherokee). She created seven paper cast images in the spirit of blind embossing to illuminate the Seven Clans of the Cherokee Nation. When you first see the wall with its nine framed pieces, it looks like a display of framed, pure- white emptiness. Take a closer look and you’ll enter a world of sophisticated imagination.
Kobi Gyetvan (Latinx), chose a commercial Guadalupe bottle. He unspooled a travel story and created a painting that linked him to his immigrant grandparents. AJ Lopez saw old bleached photographs and created a self-portrait titled “I’m Still Here.” Boulanger turned her fascination with three Osage dolls into two lidded ceramic bowls and an abstract fabric wall painting. They all echo the colors and patterns seen in the dolls.
Dominating the north wall, a large composite work illustrates Camacho’s influence. The wall’s black-and-white collaborative piece underscores the central idea that objects carry messages, if we will only look and listen.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.