Posted: June 11th, 2022


due 6.11
Survivance is an active sense of presence, the continuance of
native stories, not a mere reaction, or a survivable name. Native
survivance stories are renunciations of dominance, tragedy and
— Gerald Vizenor
Please write an essay, 2-4 double-spaced pages in length,
2-3page that makes links and connections between the material
we have covered in the past seven weeks (Week 5-8) and
responds to the following questions: What have you learned from
the first part of this class that you would like to take with you into
the future? How has this class/material helped you shape or
reshape your perspective on your own work as an artist, art
historian, art educator, art therapist, or art administrator?
Your essay should include a reference to
• 1 artist per lectured covered
• 1 reading per lecture covered
• 1 (or more) example of the mechanics of colonialism: Ex: the
settler art world/museum system, dispossession,
appropriation, the anthropological or modernist gaze, etc.
• OPTIONAL: The disciplinary apparatus of the class: What
have you’ve learned about art history and / writing research
papers, reading museum labels, the assignments
(collaborative exhibitions or paper assignments), etc.
And the attached documentation
Let your paper be guided by Gerald Vizenor’s idea of
“survivance,” meaning for every example where you cite the
operations of a colonial mechanism, be sure to follow up with a
consideration of how Native artists found ingenious ways to
“renounc[e] domination, tragedy and victimry.”
You will be graded on your ability to be specific. For example,
discuss a specific aspect of the history we have discussed (the
effects of tourism, the railroad, and the introduction of market
capitalism in the Southwest), or objects from specific nations
(kwakwaka’wakw transformation masks) not “Pacific Northwest
culture” generally. Be sure to elaborate on what is relevant,
interesting, memorable, or meaningful to you. Also, be sure to
give a solid description and interpretation of this specific aspect
or object as well as discussing how it fits into the worldview and /
nation of the group who made it.
No need for a works cited page or bibliography! Instead, use in-
line citations or parenthetical notations to reference your source.
Examples of In-line citations: In the essay, “Andean Translations,”
Macarena Gomez-Barris writes ___ In the Pacific Northwest
lecture, Risa said ___; In the online exhibition from Week 3, ___
wrote about ___ and shared ___
Examples of Parenthetical Notation: (Gomez-Barris, “Andean
Translations,” p. 4).
George Morrison: Anishinaabe Expressionist Artist
Author(s): Gerald Vizenor
Source: American Indian Quarterly , Summer – Autumn, 2006, Vol. 30, No. 3/4, Special
Issue: Decolonizing Archaeology (Summer – Autumn, 2006), pp. 646-660
Published by: University of Nebraska Press
Stable URL:
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George Morrison
Anishinaabe Expressionist Artist
George Morrison was an eminent expressionist painter with a singular
romantic vision and an erudite sense of natural reason and liberty. He
created an elusive shimmer of “endless space,” the color and eternal mo-
tion of nature. The horizons he painted were inspired by nature and
lightened by his watch and visual memories of Lake Superior near the
Grand Portage Reservation in Minnesota.
The artistic creations of George Morrison and Allan Houser were pre-
sented in the recent inaugural exhibition of the Smithsonian National
Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). “Morrison and Houser be-
longed to a small disparate group of Native American artists,” noted
Truman Lowe in Native Modernism, “who ushered in a new, modernist
era in Native art history, in which identification with a uniform Indian
aesthetic gave way to greater freedom for personal experimentation and
expression.”‘ Morrison was an artist of modern Native liberty.
Native American Indian artists clearly demonstrated the sentiments of
romanticism and modernism many generations before occidental domi-
nance, but the name and notion of personal, emotive creative practices
that departed from selected traditions have been embraced only recently.
Native artists were expressionists and modernists by continental barter,
tricky conversions, innovations, transformation, natural reason, sur-
vivance, and by nature; these modernist Native visions and mien were
brushed aside as simulations of Native “traditions” were constructed by
social scientists, museum curators, institutions, and agencies of the fed-
eral government.
Modernism and the sentiments of chance, personal visions, and imagic
transformations in art were Native practices and much more widespread
646 Vizenor: George Morrison
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than the elite wend of occidental entitlements would sanction in the dis-
covery of Native art, production, and commerce.
George Morrison was a Native modernist painter, and his inspiration
was both innate, Native by sentiments of natural reason and memory,
and learned by art history, museums, and galleries. He was roused more
by the imagic traces of nature, motion, color, and abstract patterns than
he was by the academies of modernist turns, modes, and representations.
Morrison, in other words, was a Native romanticist and modernist and
an eminent expressionist painter by any cultural measure.
Morrison told Margot Fontunato Galt in Turning the Feather Around
that the “basis of all art is nature.” The North Shore of Lake Superior
“was subconsciously in my psyche, prompting some of my images.”2
Morrison was nurtured in the presence of indigenous sounds and light
created by the seasons of the lake. He conceived of these images in the
abstract rush of colors and memory, not by naturalism or the mere aca-
demic representations of the natural world. Clearly he perceived that na-
ture was never silence but rather a brace of colors and the constancy of
sound, a natural music.
Anishinaabe lexicons have no specific name or word for romanticism,
no traditional condition, distinction, mode, or practice that separates
natural reason from creation. Natives practiced a natural art that antici-
pated the party of romanticism and modernism by emotive, personal,
creative expressions in stories, images, and objects of wood, bone, hide,
bark, and stone. Reason was inspired by nature, and Native artists cre-
ated stories and images of singular visions, a distinctive and eccentric
Anishinaabe woodland artists were aesthetic by natural reason-
emotive romanticists, expressionists, and surrealists in a time of conti-
nental liberty. Surely Natives perceived artistic expression as more than
mere resistance to realism, naturalism, and other occidental varieties of
artistic production and historical movements.
The Anishinaabe word mazinaadin, an animate, transitive verb, means
to “make an image,” and the word aakwendam, an animate, intransitive
verb, means “feelings” and “intense desires” in translation. These two
words provide a sense of the emotive creation of an image and imply
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the artistic conditions of romanticism but not the movement or reac-
tion to tradition or neoclassicism. Other words related to mazinaadin, a
transitive image or imagic motion, are names of new experiences. The
word mazinaatese, for instance, means “movie,” and mazinaakide means
“pictured” or “photographed.” Similarly, the emotive word aakwaadiz
means “fierce” in the language of the Anishinaabe.
Morrison was inspired by expressionism, an art movement already
underway at the time of his birth, September 30, 1919, in Chippewa City,
Minnesota, a Native village located near the Grand Portage Reservation.
He was born at home, a descendant of the Raven totem of the Anishi-
naabe, otherwise known as the people named the Chippewa.3 His sur-
name marks a curious union of Natives and voyageurs, the fur trade, and
cultural transcendence.
Morrison was carried as an infant in a dikinaagan, a cradleboard,
crafted in the traditional way by his father. “I was wrapped in buckskin
of cloth decorated with beadwork by my mother,” he wrote in This Song
Remembers. “There were twelve children in our family, crowded into a
small frame house without electricity or plumbing. We were often hun-
gry and sick.”4
Morrison learned the words and stories of primary colors in two lan-
guages, one oral and the second written, both sources of envisioned tone,
concentration, and emotive, romantic artistry. The word inaazo, an ani-
mate verb that means in translation “colored a certain way,” traces the
Native sensibilities of his expressionist art. The word misko, “red,” for in-
stance, is a preverb of visual memory, as in miskomin, “raspberry”; misk-
waawaak, “red cedar”; miskwi, “blood”; and miskwazhe, “to have mea-
sles.” Morrison likely observed the tricky tone of ozhaawashko, a word
that means blue and green, the transcendence of a bruise; ozhaawashko
aniibiish, “green tea”; and ozhaawashko bineshiinh, “bluebird.” The pre-
verb ozaawi signifies the color brown and yellow, as in ozaawikosimaan,
“pumpkin”; ozaawindibe, to “be blond” or “have brown hair”; and
ozaawi bimide, “butter.”5
“I believe in going back to the magic of the earth and the lake, the sky
and the universe.” Morrison did just that by natural reason, memory,
and creative images in two languages. “That kind of magic. I believe in
that kind of religion,” he declared. “A religion of the rocks, the lake, the
water, the sky. Yes, that’s what I believe in.”6
Morrison was given two sacred names, Turning the Feather Around
648 Vizenor: George Morrison
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and Standing in the Northern Lights, at a healing ceremony. These names
inspired, and created a sense of presence and natural reason. “Walter
Caribou did a healing ceremony for me. I was very ill, and living here at
Grand Portage facing the lake,” said Morrison. Caribou “dreamed two
names-one dream, two names. Maybe I was on my way to recovery.
Maybe what he did helped to make me well. You never know.”7
Morrison survived several serious medical conditions, and then in
his sixties he was diagnosed with a rare disease of the lymphatic sys-
tem. He matured with a physical disability, in dire poverty, and at an
insurmountable cultural distance, one might surmise, from the princely
salons of modern art that once shunned and later celebrated the subjec-
tive tease and prompts of abstract expressionism. Morrison, however,
would stay the visionary practices of Native artistry, probably unaware
of that singular association at the time, with his own creations in wood
and waves of brilliant, layered pigment.
The Anishinaabe painted and incised subjective, surreal pictures on
wood and stone. Many centuries later similar images were renewed on
spiritual scrolls, beaded patterns on clothes, cradleboards, ceremonial
objects, and in contemporary art. Surely the ancient pictures are atavistic,
emotive expressions, the intuitive course of nature on a mythic horizon.
Morrison, in an interview, endorsed the “influence of surrealism” in
his horizon pictures. “There is no evidence of sentiment” and “no lit-
eral translation of people, sky or water.” He pointed out that the “land-
scapes, by definition, are the horizon lines,” and the bright, thick colors
are “more surreal than literal or realistic.”8
Morrison circumvented academicism, or traditional, artistic formu-
laries at the Minneapolis School of Art. He was never a “slick” painter,
and his surreal, artistic expressions served no social cues or cultural pos-
session of nature or satiny landscapes. Likewise, nature was neither a
genre nor an object of cultural sentiments in his early landscapes.
“One might put this even more simply,” observed John Berger in Ways
of Seeing. “The sky has no surface and is intangible; the sky cannot be
turned into a thing or given a quantity. And landscape painting begins
with the problem of painting the sky and distance.” 9 Morrison absolved
these naturalistic teasers with the eternal shimmer of horizon lines.
Morrison imparted a common, personal, understated, and communal
manner. He was liberal, to be sure, a romantic advocate of certain radi-
cal Native causes, and, at the same time, he was an elusive visionary. He
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justly resisted the notion that there was an essential connection between
traditional culture and creative art. He argued that the identity of the
artist does not decide the meaning or determine the merit of the art. An-
ishinaabe and other Native artists create more than the mere representa-
tions, primitive silhouettes and simulations of discovered cultures.
“I never played the role of being an Indian artist. I always just stated
the fact that I was a painter, and I happened to be Indian. I wasn’t ex-
ploiting the idea of being Indian at all, or using Indian themes,” he told
Galt. “But as my work became better known, some critics would pick up
on my Indian background, and they’d make something of it. I guess they
were looking for a way to understand my work.” ‘0
Morrison created small pictures at the end of his career, at a time when
he was recovering from a lymphatic disease. The horizon pictures are
visionary, surrealist, emotive expressions of color, contours, textures,
traces of light, and many images afloat. Mottled, mythic creatures, for
instance, are buoyant, suspended over the shore in the pencil and ink
picture Landscape/Seascape with Surrealist Forms: Red Rock Variations
(1984). The earth is burnt orange, the water is dark, the creatures are
red, and the horizon line is a primeval union, a natural transcendence of
time, distance, and memory.
“I can see the lake change by the hour, from blue to yellow and rose”
outside the studio windows at Grand Portage. “Dramatic things happen
in the sky, with clouds and color,” said Morrison. “The basic thing in
all the paintings is the horizon line which identifies each little work as a
broad expanse of a segment of the earth.” He created abstract figures of
nature with layers of primary colors. At times he used a muted palette
to “catch a range of light after sunrise or before sunset.” The one “thing
that makes the little paintings vibrant is the layering of colors. I might
start with red, then stipple on the opposite or complement of that, blue,
then come back to red, then another cold color. The color way under-
neath comes through to the surface and gives the sensation of shimmer-
ing movement.” ”
The natural world shimmers, a bounce of light and chance of colors.
Philip Ball pointed out in Bright Earth that “nature had more hues than
the artist.” Morrison decidedly perceived the variations of natural light
and created a dance of hues by layers of primary, saturated pigments.
Ball noted that the “picture is never finished,” because the colors change
650 Vizenor: George Morrison
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evermore with time. “No artist has ever painted an image frozen in time;
all painting is a perpetual process, with every scene destined to rearrange
its tonal contrasts as time does its work on the pigments.” 12
Morrison said he was “fascinated with ambiguity, change of mood
and color, the sense of sound and movement above and below the ho-
rizon line,” and therein “lies some of the mystery of the paintings: the
transmutation, through choosing and manipulating the pigment, that
becomes the substance of art.” 13
Sam Olbekson noted in Akwe:kon that the horizon line “seems to twist
and turn along its length due to variations in the color and brightness
of the water and sky,” and this “calculated tension between water, sky,
and horizon along with the energetic use of color and texture creates a
sense of receding space and invites the viewer into the work, and into
the mind of the artist.” Morrison has “created a world of imagery that
speaks of the subtle tension, yet beauty in an environment changed by
external forces.” 14
Morrison explained many times that he was obsessed with the hori-
zon because he was born and matured near the shore of Lake Superior.
Elizabeth Erickson asked him in an interview about his use of the words
“mystery” and “magic” as an artist. He answered that the horizon series
“has been an obsession with me, now and for perhaps most of my life.
And that, in itself, has a particular magic that maybe I’m trying to in-
terpret.” The “magic of nature” is the sound of waves on the shore, the
ambient light, and the constant changes of the horizon outside his studio
“Someone mentioned the haunting quality of the texture” in the ho-
rizon series, said Morrison. “Then hidden underneath the pigment is
some kind of magic that one can’t describe that is part of the artist trying
to bring out the potency of nature.” 15
“I think of the horizon line as the edge of the world, the dividing line
between water and sky, color and texture. It brings up the literal idea of
space in painting,” said Morrison. “From the horizon, you go beyond the
edge of the world to the sky and, beyond that, to the unknown.”
Morrison returned to Lake Superior at the end of his life, and from his
studio above the shoreline watched the inimitable colors of the horizon
forever change with the light. “I always imagine, in a certain surrealist
way, that I am there. I like to imagine it is real.” 16
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George Morrison was an introspective, meditative artist who was lib-
erated from racialism and poverty by chance, by his imagination and
ambition, by his painterly associations, and by memorable Native revo-
lutions in aesthetics. Clearly, his creative deliverance was by nature, lit-
erature, light, color, latent visions, and by the analogies of horizon lines
and “endless space.”
Morrison praised a high school teacher who had encouraged his inter-
est in literature, especially the novels of Charles Dickens. A Tale of Two
Cities was his favorite novel, and he once cited the first lines, “It was the
best of times, it was the worst of times.” Rightly, these crucial, compara-
tive sentiments might have described his situation as a student in public
school, a poor, disabled, Native from Chippewa City. The sentiments
continue, “it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was
the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,” and more, “in short,
the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest
authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the su-
perlative degree of comparison only.” ” The French Revolution of the
novel, a time of chance, great conversions, injustice, and betrayal was not
an obscure metaphor for his own adventures and sense of survivance as
an artist in the shadow of the Great Depression in America.
He completed his studies at the Minneapolis School of Art in 1943,
and, with an Ethel Morrison Van Derlip scholarship, continued at the
Art Students League in New York City. Expressionism, cubism, surreal-
ism, and other art movements were eminent and unmistakable influ-
ences at the time.
Morrison painted abstract expressionist figures and landscapes that
were exhibited in several galleries with the work of other young artists.
Three Figures, his gouache and ink on paper, for instance, was a radical
departure from the academic portraiture and realism taught at the Min-
neapolis School of Art.
The figures were elongated, “very somber works, with dark colors,”
he explained. He ascribed the latent source of the figures to a compli-
cated romantic association with an art student, Cicely Aikman. “Our re-
lationship lasted until” her former boyfriend “returned from the war.”
Morrison was exempt from military service because of a disability. He
652 Vizenor: George Morrison
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explained that the “paintings contain the symbolism of three people; one
of them is me.” 18
Morrison encountered Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz
Kline, and other abstract expressionist painters at the Cedar Street Tav-
ern in Greenwich Village. “The bar wasn’t a showy place with art work on
the walls. It was just a common bar. Dark wood and booths. Bland would
be a good word for it,” he reminisced. “Though they were the ‘big boys,’
gestural painters at the height of their notoriety, the camaraderie was
such that they didn’t walk around and act superior. They were friendly
to everyone.”‘9 Morrison, at the time, lived in a studio nearby on East
Ninth Street near Cooper Union.
“The Cedar was the cathedral of American culture in the fifties,” ob-
served a painter in Republic ofDreams, a history of Greenwich Village by
Ross Wetzsteon. “But the critic Leslie Fiedler saw it differently. ‘In all that
aggression and machismo there was always a trace of hysterical despera-
tion.”‘ The “Cedar became a kind of intersection between the first and
second generation of abstract expressionists” after the tragic death of
Jackson Pollock.20 Morrison was an inspired expressionist painter, but
he was never consumed by chauvinism, desperation, or frenzy.
Morrison summered with other artists at Provincetown on Cape Cod
in Massachusetts. The town reminded him of Grand Marais on Lake
Superior. He was roused by the light and many moods of the ocean. The
great curve of the beach became a source of driftwood, the natural start
of his intricate found and prepared wood collages. He called the con-
structions “paintings in wood,” the “texture of oil painting.” The wood
landscapes were connected to the earth and yet “come from the water.
I realize now that in making these I may have been inspired subcon-
sciously by the rock formations of the North Shore.” 21
He received a Fulbright grant in 1952 to study in France. He sailed on
the Queen Mary with his wife, Ada Reed, an art student, and Kobi, a black
poodle he secured in an art trade, and enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-
Arts in Paris. Later that year he was at the University of Aix-Marseilles.
“In Europe I did a lot of things on paper, some with wash and ink, some
gouache,” but “very few oils because of the bulk.” 22
Morrison received an Opportunity Fellowship from the John Hay
Whitney Foundation the following year and moved from the C6te
d’Azur to Duluth, Minnesota. “Maybe I wanted to be back in Minnesota
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or back with my family, I’m not sure. With the fellowship, I had money
to live on without having to work.”23 Assuredly, by that time his work
was widely exhibited, favorably reviewed, and acquired by collectors and
museums. His painting Construction was purchased by the Walker Art
Center, for instance, and was pictured in a feature story in the Duluth
News-Tribune. Morrison was reasonably secure as an artist, but he and
his first wife would soon separate and divorce.
Walter Chrysler, a celebrated collector of expressionist art, bought Au-
reate Vertical and two other paintings by Morrison. The vertical character
dominated his work in the late fifties. “You could say paintings like Aure-
ate Vertical,” a large golden painting on canvas, had “structures within
a landscape space.” These works were described as “endless space,” and
with no horizon line. The expressionistic space reached outside the can-
vas. The notion of untold, boundless space “struck some people as ex-
plosive and destructive,” in other words, destructive of the “objective in
painting, not showing a literal subject matter.” 24
Hans Hofmann, Willem de Kooning, and other abstract expressionists
presented their work with unrenowned artists at minor galleries. Mor-
rison was included in many of these shows and soon became part of
the art scene. Hofmann was an influential artist and teacher who advo-
cated an escape from “the tyranny of reality,” observed Ross Wetzsteon,
and “to integrate the natural world with an individual temperament.”
Hofmann “saw art as a spiritual quest, and scornfully rejected psycho-
logical subtexts or ideological preconceptions–his gospel was the pu-
rity of painting.” 25
Morrison had anticipated these sentiments of nature in his expres-
sionistic art. Clearly, he lived in a constant, creative space, through his
memories, travels, painterly associations, and the camaraderie of Green-
wich Village. By then his work had been acquired by the Whitney in New
York, the Joslyn in Omaha, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and many
“other museums in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Richmond, Utica, and Roch-
ester, New York.” 26 Morrison would return from the “endless space” of
his work to the more familiar abstractions of nature, the magical horizon
lines of Lake Superior.
He taught at his alma mater, the Minneapolis School of Art, for a short
time in 1959, and while he was there the Kilbride-Bradley Gallery spon-
sored a special show of his recent paintings. John Sherman reviewed the
show in the Minneapolis Tribune. “Morrison over the years has edged
654 Vizenor: George Morrison
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away from figurative painting and now is almost entirely devoted techni-
cally, to pattern and texture, in a rich repertoire of colors.” His “pieces
project as visual music in various keys and harmonies.”
“The paintings seem to originate in a deep composure rather than
stirred by external excitement, and they strike inner chords while pleas-
ing the eye. They are animated by different schemes. In some there is a
calm vertical flow, in others there is a blazing centripetal movement,”
observed Sherman. An “art of sensitivity and range, essentially lyrical
and subjective. It discloses an experienced skill in setting up the coun-
terpoint and tensions which induce you to gaze for a long time, seeking
out the secrets imbedded there.” 27
Morrison, in 1963, was appointed an assistant professor at the pres-
tigious Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. He and his fam-
ily continued their summer visits to Cape Cod. He found driftwood on
the beach for collage “paintings.” Some of the wood had “bits of paint”
washed gray by the waves, rust stains, and the aesthetic texture and color
of nail holes. “There was an interesting history in those pieces,” a trace
of “who had touched them, where they had come from.” 28
“I selected colors at random for a given spot on the collage,” as in
“my abstractions,” explained Morrison. “I clustered little pieces of wood
alongside bigger ones. But unlike the abstractions, the wood collages are
clearly based on landscape.” Sam Sachs, director of the Minneapolis In-
stitute of Arts at the time, bought the first abstract wood “painting.”
Morrison sold his wood collages on commission to several corporations
and never had one of his own. “Whenever I finished a piece, it was al-
ready sold.”29
Morrison received an honorary master of fine arts degree from the
Minneapolis School of Art in 1969. The following year he resigned from
the faculty of the Rhode Island School of Design and accepted a position
in American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota. “I wanted to
come back to the Indian connection, to Minnesota and my family,” he
explained. “I felt an inner need to come back, not realizing the conse-
quences of what I was doing. I felt the need to put certain Indian values
into my work.” 30 The following year he accepted a permanent position
in the Studio Arts Department.
The Walker Art Center, in 1974, sponsored a show of his pen and ink
drawings, textured lines that revealed elements of cubism and surrealism.
The drawings show a horizon line, and one “represents a tree coming
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through from the bottom to the top of the drawing. That was very sub-
conscious.”31 Philip Larson observed an “analogy to landscape” in the
drawings and, in an interview, asked Morrison about the horizon line.
“There was one thing I started out with in each drawing,” responded
Morrison. “I’d draw a pencil line one quarter from the top to indicate
the horizon line. I wanted to make that very evident,” and that “gives it
the tangible evidence of landscape, the top sky plane, and the lower water
or land plane.”
Larson asked, “Do you think there are still figurative or referential
elements in your art?” Morrison equivocated, “They are remote and
hidden. Only an organic suggestion remains. The abstract context takes
over” in the drawings. The curved lines denote “any kind of figurative
element, like breasts, sexual organs, plants, water or clouds. In the new
drawings, it went into a more pure state and the overall textural surface
became more formal. The drawings are laid out with precise straight and
curved lines, all the same distance apart, and the whole surface is evenly
textured. There is an effect of shallow cubist depth made with overlap-
ping lines, and a sense of indefinite space extending outwards from all
four sides.” The “illusionistic qualities come from the lines.” 32
Most of his pen and ink drawings create illusions or surrealist, cubist
perceptions, but the virtual motion of the lines in others is a mirage of
nature, not merely an inaccurate perception. The intricate lines seem to
move, as in the natural motion of the wind. Morrison created virtual
analogies of landscapes in the “endless space” of his large vertical ex-
pressionistic paintings, and in horizon lines, the shimmer of nature and
memory. Analogies are “inherently visual,” a natural move to “tentative
harmony,” declared Barbara Stafford in Visual Analogy. She would “re-
cuperate analogy,” an eternal, natural harmony, “as a general theory of
artful invention” and practice.
“Today, however, we posses no language for talking about resemblance,
only an exaggerated awareness of difference.” The world is “staggering
under an explosion of discontinuous happenings exhibited as if they had
no historical precedents.” Stafford argued that without a “sophisticated
theory of analogy, there is only the negative dialectics of difference, end-
ing in the unbreachable impasse of pretended assimilation.” 33
Morrison was born and raised in the presence of natural reason, visual
analogies, color, and the shimmer of horizons, a “magic of the earth.”
He resisted, as his Native ancestors had done, the cursory disanalogies
656 Vizenor: George Morrison
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of nature, the insular notions of realism, naturalism, and academicism
in the course of his abstract expressionist paintings, wood collages, and
line drawings. He never lost his sense of natural reason, visual analogies
of nature, and the magical hues of a horizon.
Morrison retired from the University of Minnesota in 1983. He was
honored with a special exhibition, George Morrison: Entries in an Artist’s
Journal, at the University Gallery. “It was like putting my private diary
on public display,” said Morrison. “Throughout my career the sketch-
book or journal has been an intimate source of personal expression.” The
journal was a narrative of surrealist expressions, creative ideas, and “auto-
matic drawing techniques to record an inner solitude and loneliness.”34
Shortly after his retirement, he built a house and studio on the Grand
Portage Reservation. The Lake Superior shoreline was only twenty-four
steps below the deck of his studio. The sound of the lake was constant,
the color of the horizon protean. At about the same time, he was diag-
nosed with Castleman’s disease of the lymphatic system. “I started to
think about summing up my life, about legacies,” he told Margot For-
tunato Galt. “I wanted to work on more sculptural ideas and do more
drawings. I wanted to have a big show, a lifetime show that would pull
my work together. I didn’t know if I would have the time.” His immune
system had been weakened by the disease, and by “radiation and che-
motherapy treatment.” Morrison created small horizon paintings dur-
ing his treatment and recovery. “The basic thing in all the paintings is
the horizon line which identifies each little work as a broad expanse of a
segment of the earth.” 35
Morrison painted in a “small format” because of his disease. “During
his convalescence he began painting on small panels, most about six by
eleven inches,” noted Charleen Touchette in American Indian Art. The
paintings varied by hues and saturation of color, “tone, texture and ap-
plication of paint.” Sixty-one of these inspired landscapes comprise the
series Red Rock Variations: Lake Superior Landscape.36
Mark Rollo wrote in The Circle that Morrison was modest about his
eminence as an artist and that he was not sentimental about “growing
old.” Morrison said it “would be ‘kind of nice’ to have his ashes scattered
in the big water” of Lake Superior and the Atlantic Ocean. “One always
wants to live longer, of course. You feel that your life is just beginning and
you need more time. You wish you had another lifetime.” 37
Morrison was honored by a retrospective of his creative work in 1990.
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The Minnesota Museum of Art in Saint Paul and the Tweed Museum of
Art in Duluth sponsored the exhibition Standing in the Northern Lights.
The name of the retrospective was one of his sacred names. Sixty-seven
works, including four wood collages, expressionistic paintings, and hori-
zon scenes, were presented. The exhibition also traveled to the Plains Art
Museum in Moorhead, Minnesota. The Rhode Island School of Design
awarded him an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts in 1991.
“My art is my religion,” declared Morrison in This Song Remembers.
“I’ve tried to unravel the fabric of my life and how it relates to my work.
Certain Indian values are inherent-an inner connection with the peo-
ple and all living things, a sense of being in tune with natural phenom-
ena, a consciousness of sea and sky, space and light, the enigma of the
horizon, the color of the wind.”38
George Morrison died at age eighty on April 17, 2000, in Grand Marais,
Minnesota. Mary Abbe reported in the Minneapolis StarTribune that
Morrison was “one of Minnesota’s most distinguished and beloved art-
ists.” She noted that like “Claude Monet’s famous Impressionist paint-
ings of the Seine River, Morrison’s abstractions reflected” Lake Superior’s
“ever-changing moods. Their common motif is a horizon that burns
fiery red, flares pink or modulates to dusky blues and dappled greens
depending on the season, weather and time of day.” 39 Morrison, though,
created a more memorable horizon line that shimmered with the magic
of nature not impressions of the city. He is also honored for his public
works in Minneapolis, including an enormous wood mural at the Ameri-
can Indian Center, a totem in the LaSalle Plaza, and an abstract stone
mosaic sidewalk on the Nicollet Mall.
George Morrison wore the seasons of Native survivance and crucial
waves of culture on his face. He was wounded by disease and sustained by
natural reason and an eminent artistic vision. There were abstract traces
of winter on his brow, the intricate light of spring and autumn in his
eyes, and the blaze of summer colors in his stories. Morrison is forever
at the “edge of the world,” a Native shimmer on the horizons he painted.
1. Truman Lowe, Native Modernism: The Art of George Morrison and Allan
Houser (Washington Dc: Smithsonian National Museum of the American In-
dian, 2004), 10.
658 Vizenor: George Morrison
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2. George Morrison, as told to Margot Fortunato Gait, Turning the Feather
Around: My Life in Art (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1998), 146.
3. The Chippewa and Ojibwe are the Anishinaabe in the language of the
4. Jane Katz, ed., This Song Remembers: Self-Portraits of Native Americans in
the Arts (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980), 53-60.
5. John Nichols and Earl Nyholm, A Concise Dictionary of Minnesota Ojibwe
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995).
6. Morrison in Gait, Turning the Feather Around, 29.
7. Morrison in Gait, Turning the Feather Around, 17, 18.
8. Lawrence Abott, A Time of Visions: Interviews with Native American Artists,, 1998, 6.
9. John Berger, Ways of Seeing (New York: Penguin Books, 1977), 105.
to. Morrison in Galt, Turning the Feather Around, 71.
11. Morrison in Gait, Turning the Feather Around, 170.
12. Philip Ball, Bright Earth (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001),
107, 251.
13. Morrison in Gait, Turning the Feather Around, 168, 169, 170.
14. Sam Olbekson, “Beyond the Horizon: An Interview with Anishinaabe
Artist George Morrison,” Akwe:kon: A Journal of Indigenous Issues io, no. 1
(1993): 27.
15. Elizabeth Erickson, “An Interview with George Morrison,” Art Paper 6,
no. 30 (1987): 28.
16. Morrison in Gait, Turning the Feather Around, 192.
17. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (New York: Dover, 1999), 1.
18. Morrison in Gait, Turning the Feather Around, 63.
19. Morrison in Gait, Turning the Feather Around, 97.
20. Ross Wetzsteon, Republic of Dreams, Greenwich Village: The American
Bohemia, 191o-196o (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002), 552.
21. Morrison in Galt, Turning the Feather Around, 128; George Morrison:
Reflections, produced and directed by Lorraine Norrgard, WDSE TV, Duluth-
Superior, 1998.
22. Morrison in Galt, Turning the Feather Around, go.
23. Morrison in Gait, Turning the Feather Around, 92.
24. Morrison in Gait, Turning the Feather Around, 99, 104.
25. Wetzsteon, Republic of Dreams, 528.
26. Morrison in Gait, Turning the Feather Around, 105.
27. John Sherman, “George Morrison’s Art Lyrical and Subjective,” Minne-
apolis Tribune, February 13, 1959.
28. Morrison in Gait, Turning the Feather Around, 125.
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29. Morrison in Galt, Turning the Feather Around, 142, 144.
30. Morrison in Galt, Turning the Feather Around, 135.
31. Morrison in Galt, Turning the Feather Around, 147.
32. Philip Larson, “George Morrison and Philip Larson: An Interview,”
George Morrison: Drawings, exhibition catalog, (Minneapolis: Walker Art Cen-
ter, 1973).
33. Barbara Marie Stafford, Visual Analogy: Consciousness as the Art of Con-
necting (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999) 3, io.
34. Morrison in Galt, Turning the Feather Around, 163.
35. Morrison in Galt, Turning the Feather Around, 169, 192.
36. Charleen Touchette, “George Morrison: Standing on the ‘Edge of the
World,”‘ American Indian Art (Winter 2001).
37. Mark Anthony Rollo, “George Morrison’s Superior Life,” The Circle, De-
cember 31, 1998.
38. Katz, This Song Remembers, 6o.
39. Mary Abbe, “Distinguished Artist George Morrison Dies,” Minneapolis
StarTribune, April 18, 2000.
660 Vizenor: George Morrison
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Issue Table of Contents
American Indian Quarterly, Vol. 30, No. 3/4, Special Issue: Decolonizing Archaeology (Summer – Autumn, 2006), pp. i-iv+269-665
Front Matter [pp. i-iv]
Guest Editor’s Remarks: Decolonizing Archaeology [pp. 269-279]
Indigenous Archaeology as Decolonizing Practice [pp. 280-310]
Decolonizing Indigenous Archaeology: Developments from down Under [pp. 311-349]
Decolonizing the Archaeological Landscape: The Practice and Politics of Archaeology in British Columbia [pp. 350-380]
Navajo Archaeologist Is Not an Oxymoron: A Tribal Archaeologist’s Experience [pp. 381-387]
Archaeology for the Seventh Generation [pp. 388-415]
Little Choice for the Chumash: Colonialism, Cattle, and Coercion in Mission Period California [pp. 416-430]
Building a Bridge to Cross a Thousand Years [pp. 431-440]
“To Take Their Heritage in Their Hands”: Indigenous Self-Representation and Decolonization in the Community Museums of Oaxaca, Mexico [pp. 441-460]
Beyond Racism: Some Opinions about Racialism and American Archaeology [pp. 461-485]
Overcoming Hindrances to Our Enduring Responsibility to the Ancestors: Protecting Traditional Cultural Places [pp. 486-503]
Guest Editor’s Remarks: Critical Engagements with the NMAI [pp. 507-510]
A New Thing? The NMAI in Historical and Institutional Perspective [pp. 511-542]
You Are Here: The NMAI as Site of Identification [pp. 543-557]
“South of the Border” at the NMAI [pp. 558-573]
What Are Our Expectations Telling Us? Encounters with the NMAI [pp. 574-596]
No Sense of the Struggle: Creating a Context for Survivance at the NMAI [pp. 597-618]
(Un)disturbing Exhibitions: Indigenous Historical Memory at the NMAI [pp. 619-631]
Missed Opportunities: Reflections on the NMAI [pp. 632-645]
George Morrison: Anishinaabe Expressionist Artist [pp. 646-660]
Back Matter [pp. 505-665]
Fritz Scholder traveled two paths between 1967 and 1980, the period in which he depicted the
majority of his Native American subjects. First (and most familiar), the artist delved into the
fraught politics of tourism in the American Southwest following his appointment as a paint-
ing instructor at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe in 1964. What better
pursuit for a burgeoning artist in the era of Pop than the big business of picturing Indians? Yet
Scholder pointedly took up the subject in resistance to what he called a horde of “ugly tourists”
trampling the region in search of a romantic Indian cliché.1 Second (and comparatively little
known) is the artist’s frequent travel abroad at the height of Cold War cultural diplomacy. He
encountered the work of Francis Bacon in London, began his Vampir series in Transylvania,
created the lithograph Indian in Paris in 1976, painted images of pyramids in Egypt, won the
International Prize in Lithography from Intergrafik ‘80 in Berlin, and lectured widely on Native
American art [fig. 18].
This essay is the first to explore the relationship between Scholder’s Indian series and the
cultural politics of travel. How did the artist’s approach to native subjects interweave touristic
lessons from his Santa Fe tenure with his own regular journeys abroad? In both cases, Scholder
joined up with a flow of world travelers who have for centuries recorded their impressions of new
places and peoples using brush or pen. At the same time, he politicized a modernist tradition
in which “symbols and metaphors of travel are used in ways that obscure key differences of
power between nationalities, classes, races, and genders.”2 The artist made such differences
newly visible wherever he and his works went, trading the leisure of tourism for his own, id-
iosyncratic brand of diplomacy. This was especially evident in 1972, when Scholder toured
through Europe with the exhibition Two American Painters: Fritz Scholder and T. C. Cannon
under the auspices of the United States Information Agency. Although Scholder distanced
himself from the American Indian Movement in the same period, the far-flung travels of artist
and work helped to position indigenous politics in the middle of the Cold War international
arena, lending them additional significance in the context of global art history today.
painter, traveler, diplomat
Sioux Burial at Mouse River (detail)
Scholder’s bit of Pop irony talks back to the region’s longstanding ethnographic entertain-
ment complex, which he viewed with antipathy throughout his Santa Fe tenure. During the
industrial boom of the late nineteenth century, antimodernist pilgrims sought spiritual solace
in red-rock mesas and cultural authenticity from Native American communities. The Santa
Fe Railway and the Fred Harvey Company joined forces to organize regional attractions, build
cushy hotels, and publish alluring guidebooks, marketing the Southwest as a premier travel
destination.6 Pueblos and Navajos responded to the curious stares and ready pocketbooks
of outsiders with a mixture of outright resistance and strategic cooperation. They variously
prohibited photography at ceremonies, sold pottery and textiles to the crowds, sat before the
lens and easel, and circulated their own wry representations [fig. 21].7
Although the Fred Harvey Company closed up shop soon after Scholder’s appointment at IAIA
in 1964, the ranks of international visitors were replenished by the camera-toting contingent of
the era’s counterculture.8 Native Americans, too, were among those experiencing the region for
the first time. Paul Chaat Smith has written of Yuchi-Muscogee Creek photographer Richard
Ray Whitman’s arrival in the 1960s: “[He] journeyed to Santa Fe to realize the intoxicating
vision promised in the glossy pages of a weekly magazine. He found instead a cold, soulless
place where commerce meant the same thing as art, culture was often a pose, and cynicism
came as naturally as breathing.”9 Similarly, recognition of the colonial dynamics at play in the
Southwest fueled Scholder’s conviction that images of Native Americans were caught in a
romantic trap: “Upon my arrival in Santa Fe in 1964, I vowed that I would not paint the Indian.
The non-Indian had painted the subject as a noble savage and the Indian painter had been
caught in a tourist-pleasing cliché.”10 Yet the notion that Scholder could remain outside this
politic—one in which his students, fellow teachers, and nearby indigenous communities were
deeply embroiled—proved untenable. Scholder entered the fray three years later, wielding
strawberry ice-cream cones and soda pop as weapons against the crowd.
In 1972, Fritz Scholder wrote a short poem to accompany Super Indian No. 2:
He tried to ignore the hoard [sic]
of ugly tourists as he left the others. In the
old days there were few white
watchers along with the old professional
Indian lovers. Now it had turned
into a carnival. He stepped up to the
red, white, and blue concession
stand and ordered an ice cream cone
—a double-dip strawberry.3
“He” is a buffalo dancer, perhaps from one of the pueblos near Santa Fe, apparently worn out
from physical exertion, heat, and crowds. His enormous brown frame slumps, right arm draped
across bent knee. Instead of a picturesque dance rattle, the preferred prop of tourists’ photos,
he grips an incongruous pink ice-cream cone. Tourists love native dances, cold treats, and the
reprieve of an air-conditioned hotel. But the brochures promise a spectacle of pure difference,
implying that ice cream should remain outside the frame. In the visual culture of Southwest
tourism, this most American of desserts, associated with childhood and middle-class leisure,
does not belong in the fist of a swarthy Indian partaking in dances that the Superintendent of
Pueblo Day Schools called “so bestial as to prohibit their description” in 1915.4 It is as if one
of Edward Curtis’s Tesuque Buffalo Dancers (1925) snuck out of the photograph, selected a
flavor from Wayne Thiebaud’s Four Ice Cream Cones (1964), and plopped down on Scholder’s
canvas with a sigh of relief to take a lick [figs. 19 and 20].5
FIG 20
Wayne Thiebaud
Four Ice Cream Cones, 1964
Oil on canvas
Collection of Phoenix Art Museum, AZ
FIG 21
Gerald Nailor
Untitled (Tourists), 1937
Gouache on paper
Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, NM
FIG 18
Fritz Scholder
Indian in Paris, 1976
National Museum of the American Indian, Washington,
FIG 19
Edward S. Curtis
Tesuque Buffalo Dancers, 1925
Denver Art Museum
as if she had never existed.”16 In Scholder’s work, the study is directed less at the creation of
Hollywood stardom than the truth-telling presumptions of ethnographic photography. As the
authority of black and white cedes to the glamour of blue and orange in Hopi Dancers, the
fantasy of cultural access shades into pure Indian simulation.17
While Scholder cast the “dazzling light of New Mexico” on the colonial politics of Southwest
travel, he also explored a more subtle range of alternatives.18 In Indian in Taos Pueblo (1970),
the yellow of desert earth and tan of adobe walls, ubiquitous in the landscape paintings of
modernists who congregated in northern New Mexico, are mobilized in an unusual composition
(see plate 18). Planes of color, dark shadows, and indeterminate shapes, which seem plucked
from Richard Diebenkorn’s Untitled (Albuquerque) (1951), guard, rather than showcase, the
cloaked native subject at center [fig. 24]. Working with local students at IAIA, Scholder must
have been aware of Pueblo communities’ efforts to protect ceremonial knowledge from intru-
sive outsiders. Here he puts the abstract landscape to work, deflecting viewers from private
indigenous lives. We glimpse only enough to alert us of all that we don’t and shouldn’t know
about subjects who resist the treatment of their plaza as a stage.
Scholder’s time in Santa Fe was punctuated by his own forays abroad. Only two years after
beginning the Indian series, he resigned from IAIA and spent the next six months traveling
through Europe and North Africa. Reflecting on the decision years later, Scholder found that the
bright dream of the art school was doomed to bureaucratic mismanagement and factionalism
by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). He further observed, “we were still all buying into
this strange kind of ethnic romanticism . . . this localized art patronage of the Southwest, that
was deadly, and that more than anything a person today living in this country who happens
to be an Indian has to in some way transcend.”19 Evidently Scholder used his travels to drive
Soon, critics across the country hailed Scholder as the forerunner of a “New Indian Art
Movement” centered on IAIA.11 Faculty and students sought to distance their work from the
ceremonial dances and buffalo hunts that native artists painted for sale beginning in the
1910s.12 They sculpted contemporary political messages to a soundtrack of Bob Dylan while
Allen Ginsberg and Vincent Price dropped by to read poetry.13 Scholder quickly developed his
signature strategy of short-circuiting otherwise picturesque scenes of natives with modern
props. It is perfected in Indians with Umbrellas (1971), among his first lithographs created at
the Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque (see plate 36). A field of green and yellow hatching
meets a mustard sky filled with cloud forms, suggestive of the Great Plains. Men on horse-
back congregate as a row of swift dark strokes on the horizon, like the ominous war parties of
Hollywood westerns. Instead of ubiquitous feather bonnets, these “braves” sport jaunty hats
and carry red and white umbrellas redolent of picnics, amusement parks, and long days spent
tanning at the beach. Although Scholder imagined he was the first to create such a scene,
nineteenth-century drawings by the Lakota artist Red Hawk and others also feature parasols
on the Plains, adding a layer of historical realism to Scholder’s seemingly fantastical image
[fig. 22].14 Thus adorned, the warriors seem ready to lift off and join Mary Poppins in the sky.
At this moment, thanks to Scholder’s growing fame and his newfound interest in printmaking,
his Indians did become buoyant, multiplying and circulating alongside the tourist brochures
they teased. Two different versions of Hopi Dancers (1974), portraying one of American an-
thropology’s most-pictured subjects, share the iterative iconicity of Andy Warhol’s Marilyn
Diptych (1962; fig. 23).15 Warhol’s juxtaposition of the saturated colors of a magazine spread
and the gray scale of newsprint, a binary repeated across the whole of the series, lays bare
the logic of reproduction that dissolves real faces into media abstractions. According to art
historian Jonathan Flatley, “the work of art is conceived of not in relation to a ‘real person’ but
in relation to the process of reproducibility itself . . . the ‘person’ disappears from the process
FIG 22
Cetanluta (Red Hawk)
Meets his Squaw, ledger drawing of a
courting scene, about 1885
Ink and crayon on paper
Milwaukee Public Museum, WI
FIG 23
Andy Warhol
Marilyn Diptych, 1962
Acrylic on canvas
Tate Modern, London
FIG 24
Richard Diebenkorn
Untitled (Albuquerque), 1951
Oil on canvas
Private collection
lines of the Parthenon, shrouded vampires to proud Adonises, and the meaty distortions by
Francis Bacon to Mona Lisa’s famed half-smile.
One of Scholder’s recurring approaches to native subjects is the pictorial equivalent of
mummification. Although the artist never discussed his Indian series explicitly in such terms,
he wanted to be an Egyptologist as a child, studied sarcophagi in the British Museum, trav-
eled to Egypt several times, and, on a more intimate scale, kept an Egyptian mummy in his
personal collection, which he repeatedly drew and painted.22 Scholder similarly wraps and
bundles his Indian figures, creating self-enclosed forms that inhabit a disturbing borderline
between subject and object. In Dog and Dead Warrior (1971; plate 23), the figure is stiffened
in a horrible pose of death, leg crooked, neck thrown back. The body is swaddled in white
paint flecked with red and blue, a thin wisp of bandagelike material flowing from his neck.
The identity and hint of narrative suggested by the parenthetical “Warrior” are, like the dog
that mourns or menaces him at top, stopped in their tracks, frozen out of time. To more dig-
nified ends, the blanketed man in profile in Indian with Feather (1970; plate 34), also from
the series Indians Forever, echoes the eternal monumentality of Egyptian sarcophagi. Sioux
Burial at Mouse River (1979; plate 42), a lithograph created the same year as Scholder’s The
Sarcophagus, hints at cultural affinities between bundled burial practices separated by cen-
turies and half a globe [figs. 25 and 26].
Scholder’s investigation of the precarious, often violent border zone between life and death
may be what drew him to the work of Bacon in the Tate Modern in London at the end of his
1969 trip. Before Scholder sought to strip the romance from his Indian subjects, Bacon, a
professed atheist, pursued a similar course to reinterpret Christian crucifixion iconography.23
Instead of heroic suffering and salvation, Bacon saw butchered meat, declaring bluntly, “well,
of course, we are meat, we are potential carcasses.”24 It is likely that a work such as Lying
Figure No. 2 (1959) influenced Scholder’s rendering of a ditch of tangled flesh and bone in
this point home, communicating to friends and patrons that his practice belonged beyond the
borders of the American Southwest, in the world at large.
He called his trip in 1969 “a grand gesture by taking a grand tour of Europe. I had never
been to Europe,” he added, chuckling, “and I knew that this would make everybody mad.”20
The “grand tour” was a centuries-old tradition by which privileged young Europeans became
intimately acquainted with the great works of human civilization, rendering them in miniature
in their sketchbooks. Scholder joined up with this lineage apparently without irony. Increasingly
skeptical of the value of art school education, he advised young native artists to travel instead.21
And for the rest of his life he insisted on every artist’s freedom to depict Egyptian pyramids,
Indians with umbrellas, and any subject that compels the imagination. Rather than a discrete
category of his oeuvre, I consider that Scholder’s ventures abroad generated a translocal context
and content for his Indian series.
Many of Scholder’s indigenous subjects could be described as unhomely, in that they con-
front us with the limits of all that is familiar, safe, reassuring. While incongruity is a primary
strategy of works like Super Indian No. 2, indeterminacy is the effect of portraits such as Mad
Indian (1968; plate 16), created the same year Scholder completed his first major trip abroad.
“Mad,” implying either angry or insane, is indicated by the clawlike hand curled in the air and the
deep frown on the subject’s face. Beyond these affective signals, body and space are a collage
of unresolved parts: two halves of a shirt that don’t match, a bulbous purple forearm resting
on an unidentifiable, creaturely form, “background” shapes that seem to come alive and wrap
around the figure, and negative space under his left armpit that, when apprehended through
a quick glance, suddenly protrudes like a foot clothed in white. The portrait disturbs the clear
lines of sight so prized by tourists, withholding knowledge and refusing to be domesticated.
It is precisely monstrous, morbid, excessive, or occult subjects that Scholder catalogued with
special attention during his travels. He preferred the sealed pyramids of Egypt to the open
FIG 27
Fritz Scholder
Massacre in America: Wounded Knee, 1972
Oil on canvas
Promised Gift from Vicki and Kent Logan to the
Collection of the Denver Art Museum
[PLATE 21]
FIG 28
Francis Bacon
Lying Figure, 1959
Oil on canvas
Private collection
FIG 25
Fritz Scholder
Sioux Burial at Mouse River, 1979
Denver Art Museum
[PLATE 42]
FIG 26
Fritz Scholder
The Sarcophagus (State I), 1979
Four-color lithograph
Tamarind Institute, NM
Andrew Denson has explored, USIA depictions of Native Americans acknowledged oppres-
sion in the past but focused on “recounting a modern history of justice and government-led
improvement”—an advertisement, in effect, for the success of American democracy.31 As the
apostle of a “Red man” renaissance, Scholder’s innovative practice was evidence of the nation’s
benevolent multiculturalism and tolerance for critique. Importantly, his USIA tour coincided
with peak events of AIM, including activists’ takeover of the BIA offices in Washington, D.C., in
1972, known as the Trail of Broken Treaties, and their occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973.32
Despite sharing the activists’ critique of the BIA, historic massacres, and other legacies of
colonialism, Scholder insisted, “I don’t dig Red Power and I don’t identify with protest Indian
art.”33 The USIA may well have intended the tour to function as a diplomatic foil, directing
international media away from disruptive sovereignty struggles back home.
Yet Scholder performed his own characteristic acts of resistance abroad. Though he admits
to being “naïve” upon arrival in Bucharest, any idealism he felt about the tour ahead was instantly
shattered. He encountered a picture of himself with students at IAIA reproduced in a beautiful
color publication titled America, sitting on the coffee table of an ambassador’s palatial home.
“And I realized that this was propaganda.”34 He tells of bailing on remaining engagements in
the city and convincing his guide to take him to Transylvania—a detour that would later result
in Self-Portrait as Vampire and other dark pictures that pointedly reaffirmed his outsider status
[fig. 29]. Afterward, the artist sent a litany of complaints to organizers in Washington, D.C.,
about all aspects of the tour: “Our stay in Romania was a disaster—no planning by the USIA. In
Yugoslavia I find that the exhibit will not be in Belgrade, but in a Southern region which is the
most provincial . . . I question the value of having the show in Turkey at all.”35 Despite official
reports that Scholder was a “definite program asset,” his outspoken critique may explain why
several showings in Turkey and a proposed extension of the exhibition never came to pass.36
Massacre in America: Wounded Knee (1972; figs. 27 and 28). While Bacon’s single figure re-
tains a semblance of human identity, Scholder’s bodies are a heap of dismembered hooves,
ribs, and steaks. He envisions the infamous massacre of Lakota men, women, and children by
the U.S. Cavalry in 1890 as so many animal parts in a slaughterhouse. Scholder inaugurated
this international aesthetic dialogue on canvas one year before American Indian Movement
(AIM) activists occupied the site in South Dakota, indicating his will to move domestic Indian
struggles beyond the U.S. national borders that proved so catastrophic to indigenous survival.
Similar concerns motivated Scholder’s collecting practice. He brought pieces of the world
back to the Southwest, filling a new home he purchased in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 1972 with
objects amassed from his travels. They included a Roman miniature vase for collecting tears,
voodoo objects such as a double-horned goat and a two-headed calf, a taxidermy bison head,
and countless vintage postcards.25 Scholder explained, “[It’s] not like most houses in that it’s
more of a museum of many objects.”26 He curated his living quarters in a non-categorical
manner recalling the global mélange found in seventeenth-century European cabinets of
curiosity. He especially prized objects charged with magic and power as reminders that “we
know so little.”27 More than exotic souvenirs, his collections extended the unhomely spaces
of his canvases and prints while supplying props for further painting. They helped Scholder
“transcend” the dangerously complacent Southwest visual culture by resituating his Indian
subjects in a vast, unknowable, and often disturbing world.28
Scholder’s travels unfolded against a backdrop of volatile international relations during the
Cold War. In 1972, the connection was made explicit when the artist was invited to lecture
about contemporary native art alongside the traveling exhibition Two American Painters. The
event placed key works from his Indian series, including seven from the present exhibition, as
well as paintings by his former student at IAIA, the Kiowa painter T. C. Cannon, at the center
of American cultural diplomacy efforts in Romania, Germany, England, Yugoslavia, and Turkey.
Scholder’s tour emerged from a partnership between the Smithsonian Institution and the United
States Information Agency (USIA); the former organized shows of the brightest American
talents, while the latter coordinated their travel to strategic venues abroad. The official goal of
this arrangement was to disseminate American values of democracy and freedom around the
globe, especially in countries deemed vulnerable to Communist influence. Considering that
Scholder was among the most critical artists of his generation when it came to representing
Native Americans, how did his work and words dovetail with this international mission?
Certainly, traveling under the auspices of the USIA meant that Scholder was framed by
a narrative not of his making. For example, Scholder often stated publicly that he had little
contact with indigenous peoples prior to his tenure in the Southwest and did not lay claim to
native identity despite his one-quarter Luiseño ancestry.29 Yet Brigid Lay declared on a radio
broadcast for Voice of America in 1972 that “Fritz Scholder is one of the many who cherish
their Indian heritage and look forward to a genuine renaissance of the Red man.”30 As historian
FIG 29
Fritz Scholder
Self Portrait as a Vampire, 1972
Acrylic on canvas
Collection of the Estate of Fritz Scholder
The beast was heavy with political symbolism during the Cold War. In Romanian-born
playwright Eugène Ionesco’s popular work Rhinocéros (1959), the inhabitants of a provincial
French town transformed into rhinoceroses in what most critics interpreted as a dramatization
of the spread of fascism and communism.40 Carrying on the theme, Russia’s premier Cold
War military tank, the T-64, was widely known by the nickname “Rhino.” Scholder gives the
creature a conspicuous twist. He placed the letters “BIA,” a reference to the federal agency
notorious for breaking treaties and mismanaging indigenous relations, in the top-left corner
of the painting, hinting at an equation of African mammal, American bureaucracy, and Soviet
power. Indian and Rhinoceros thus visually refuses Piliuta’s confident message of international
goodwill. Clutching the unused pipe, the native man retains his independence from diplomatic
theater of all kinds.
Between 1967 and 1981, Scholder simultaneously turned his back on touristic simulations
of the American Southwest and the ideological baggage of Cold War internationalism as
legitimate frameworks for picturing American Indians. Yet the larger-than-life figure in Indian
and Rhinoceros also looks out at viewers holding the peace pipe, as if open to a new kind
of relationship, a truce yet to be determined. By resituating Pueblo dancers, Plains warriors,
and other native subjects within the idiosyncratic itinerary of his own “grand tour,” Scholder
retained optimism that they might address, and thereby affect, the world at large. Perhaps this
is diplomacy after all, Scholder-style.
When Scholder was not making trouble in person, his artwork carried the torch. Some of
his most overtly disruptive images were left out of Two American Painters—depictions of Indian
massacres, for example, painted in 1972, which eerily foreshadow the Wounded Knee takeover
the following February (see plates 21 and 22). At the same time, a work such as Dog and Dead
Warrior, which did travel, was hardly a picture of benign multiculturalism [fig. 30]. With its garish,
skull-like grin, hollow eyes, and clear references to the alcoholism plaguing American Indian
populations, Indian with Beer Can (1969) also seems as clear a condemnation of colonialism as
any AIM manifesto. Some Romanian viewers seemed to catch the negative drift, for the visitor’s
book included, among warm sentiments, comments such as, “The American embassy which
supervises the ways by which the USA is made known, should detect what is useful and what
isn’t . . . [T]he impression upon the youth is unfavorable.”37 Noting Scholder’s distorted bodies,
another critic who reviewed the exhibition at the American Embassy in London concluded that
Francis Bacon and other European painters had exerted greater influence on the artist than
the Americans listed in the catalog. He wondered, “Could the persistent and very pleasant
references to British painting be a subtle expression of dissent, a discreet disavowal of the art
that has put white America in the forefront of the international movement?”38
Disavowal is overt, not discreet, in Indian and Rhinoceros (1968), one of Scholder’s most
memorable paintings in this exhibition [fig. 31]. At the opening in Bucharest, internationally
recognized Romanian painter Constantin Piliuta stood before the massive canvas, remarking
on art’s possibilities for “strengthening the friendship between our two peoples”—that is,
Americans and Romanians.39 A robed native man clutching a peace pipe looms over the head
of the U.S. ambassador who stands listening. A powerful tool of indigenous diplomacy, the
mutual smoking of the peace pipe sealed pacts between indigenous nations and Europeans
from the earliest moments of contact. But here, trust appears broken; the figure stands with
his back to the rear end of an enormous rhinoceros.
FIG 30
Photograph of the opening of Two American Painters at
the American Library in Bucharest, Romania, 1972.
American ambassador Leonard C. Meeker is seen at
center in front of the Scholder paintings Super Indian
No. 1 (left), and Dog and Dead Indian (right). The center
painting, which appears to be of a Hopi maiden, does
not match anything in the catalog list and remains
unidentified. Smithsonian Institution Archives,
Washington, DC.
FIG 31
Photograph of the opening of Two American Painters at
the American Library in Bucharest, Romania, 1972.
Painter Constantin Piliuta (left) and Robert K. Geis
(right), director of the American Library, stand before
Indian and Rhinoceros. Smithsonian Institution Archives,
Washington, DC.
I consider Indian and Rhinoceros as a ledger drawing with volume. Then again, he’s a colorist.
Look at that beautiful color he used on that animal.
—Gregory Kondos
1 Fritz Scholder, Scholder/Indians (Flagstaff: Northland
Press, 1972), p. 14.
2 Caren Kaplan, Questions of Travel: Postmodern Discourses
of Displacement (Durham: Duke University Press Books, 1996),
inside cover.
3 Scholder, Scholder/Indians, p. 14.
4 Around this time, the Superintendent of Pueblo Day
Schools, P. T. Lonergan, and others submitted reports calling
for federal censorship of Pueblo dances to the Bureau of
Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., later compiled into the
notorious “Secret Dance File” currently held at the National
Anthropological Archives of the Smithsonian Institution, MS
7070. Quoted in Margaret D. Jacobs, Engendered Encounters:
Feminism and Pueblo Cultures, 1879–1934 (Lincoln: University
of Nebraska Press, 1999), p. 109.
5 Scholder took a course with Wayne Thiebaud, a key artist
in West Coast figuration, while he was enrolled in Sacramento
Junior College from 1957 to 1959 and cites him as a key
influence. See Lowery Stokes Sims, “Scholder’s Figuration:
Art and Culture in American Art,” in Lowery Stokes Sims et
al., eds., Fritz Scholder: Indian/Not Indian (Washington, D.C.,
and New York: National Museum of the American Indian,
Smithsonian Institution, and Prestel Verlag, 2008), p. 79.
6 Leah Dilworth, Imagining Indians in the Southwest:
Persistent Visions of a Primitive Past (Washington, D.C.:
Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996), pp. 16–17.
7 See Michelle McGeough, Through Their Eyes: Indian
Painting in Santa Fe, 1918–1945 (Santa Fe: Wheelwright
Museum of the American Indian, 2009).
8 Kathleen L. Howard and Diana F. Pardue, Inventing the
Southwest: The Fred Harvey Company and Native American Art
(Flagstaff: Northland Publishing, 1996), p. 133.
9 Paul Chaat Smith, Everything You Know About Indians Is
Wrong (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), p.
10 Scholder, Scholder/Indians, p. 22.
11 Brigid Lay, “An American Indian Painter,” Voice of America,
April 17, 1972. Transcript in the Smithsonian Institution
Archives, National Collection of Fine Arts (U.S.) Department of
Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture, Records, 1965–75,
000315, box 14.
12 See J. J. Brody, Indian Painters and White Patrons
(Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1971).
13 Winona Garmhausen, oral interview with Fritz Scholder,
July 1975, p. 15. Garmhausen Papers, box 4, folder 7, IAIA
14 Paul Karlstrom, oral history interview with Fritz Scholder,
March 3–30, 1995. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian
15 Scholder created Hopi Dancers at the Tamarind Institute
in 1974 and donated fifty prints of an edition of 150 to the
Denver Art Museum to be sold at a benefit event for the Native
Arts Department. Smithsonian Institution Archives, National
Collection of Fine Arts (U.S.) Department of Twentieth Century
Painting and Sculpture, Records, 1965–75, 000315, box 14.
16 Jonathan Flatley, “Warhol Gives Good Face: Publicity
and the Politics of Prosopopoeia,” in Jennifer Doyle, Jonathan
Flatley, and José Esteban Muñoz, eds., Pop Out: Queer Warhol
(Durham: Duke University Press, 1996), p. 109.
17 Anishinaabe author Gerald Vizenor borrows French
theorist Jean Baudrillard’s notion of the simulacrum to
describe dominant conceptions of Indians that circulate
without a referent. See Vizenor, Manifest Manners: Postindian
Warriors of Survivance (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press,
18 Mark Lavatelli, “Diebenkorn’s Albuquerque Years,” in
Gerald Norland et al., Richard Diebenkorn in New Mexico
(Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 2007), p. 29.
19 Karlstrom, 1995.
20 Ibid.
21 Ibid.
22 Ibid.
23 Margarita Cappock, “The Motif of Meat and
Flesh,” in Francis Bacon and the Tradition of Art (Vienna:
Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, 2003), p. 134.
24 David Sylvester, Interviews with Francis Bacon (New York:
Thames and Hudson, 1999), p. 46.
25 Ibid.
26 Paul Karlstrom, oral history interview with Fritz Scholder,
December 7, 2000. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian
27 Karlstrom, 1995.
28 Ibid.
29 See Paul Chaat Smith, “Monster Love,” in Fritz Scholder:
Indian/Not Indian, pp. 25–35.
30 Lay, “An American Indian Painter.”
31 Andrew Denson, “Native Americans in Cold War Public
Diplomacy: Indian Politics, American History, and the U.S.
Information Agency,” American Indian Culture and Research
Journal 36, no. 2 (2012), p. 4.
32 See Paul Chaat Smith and Robert Allen Warrior, Like a
Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded
Knee (New York: The New Press, 1997).
33 Quoted in Maggie Wilson, “Young Indians ‘Dig’ Fritz
Scholder’s Art,” Arizona Republic, March 8, 1971.
34 Karlstrom, 1995.
35 Fritz Scholder, letter to Richard Joyce, USIA, Washington,
D.C., October 26, 1972. Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA)
000315, box 14 .
36 Report, American Embassy in Bucharest to USIA,
Washington, D.C., November 3, 1972. SIA 000315, box 14.
37 Ibid.
38 Robert Melville, “Warpaint,” New Statesman, January 26,
1973. SIA 000315, box 14.
39 “Scholder-Cannon Exhibit,” USIA report materials from
American Embassy in Bucharest, December 12, 1972. SIA
000315, box 14.
40 David Caute, The Dancer Defects: The Struggle for
Cultural Supremacy during the Cold War (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2003), pp. 339–40.
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