Pomona Art Museum Explores Nuances of Sky

“Nuance of Sky: Edgar Heap of Birds Invites Spirit Objects to Join His Art Practice” is the name of the new Pomona College Museum of Art exhibit. There you will find historic Native American artwork, curated from Pomona’s permanent collection by renowned artist Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds, alongside Heap of Birds’s own contemporary pieces. 

Two Pomona students who were involved in the early stages of the exhibit expressed positive reactions to the final product and the success of the exhibit in educating the Claremont community on the often-overlooked genre of Native American art.

“Pomona has an incredible collection of Native American art that has not been too accessible to the public, so this exhibit was the perfect way for that to happen while tying in [older pieces from the permanent collection] with contemporary art,” Benjamin Kersten PO ’15 said.

Kersten, an art history major who helped design the layout of the exhibit and wrote labels for each piece in the collection, is pleased that the uniting factor of the exhibit is the color blue.

“It’s nice because they are not a specific kind of object, they don’t come from a specific tribe. It is all about [Native Americans’] conception of the sky, the water, and the environment,” Kersten said.

Explaining his choice, Heap of Birds wrote, “Blue, flowing at our feet and flying above our heads, brings a positive all-encompassing, life-giving presence in ‘Nuance of Sky.’”

The exhibit contains 33 pieces from Pomona’s personal collection, ranging from a Sioux beaded jacket to a Pomo feather basket and Caddo moccasins, as well as a series of blue mono-prints specially created by Heap of Birds for the exhibit.

The four new sets of mono-prints are a major focal point, thanks to the bold statements they display, such as “Happy To Donate What You Took” and “U.S. Brutal Republic Lost Human Respect.”

Jamie García PO ’14 worked with the museum on background research for “Nuance of Sky” during an internship last summer. García believes the exhibit is accessible and entertaining for museum visitors.

“I think the way the exhibit is set up is really awesome because it is not like this room is for Edgar’s work and this [other room] is for Pomona’s objects; they are all in the same space, so it is easy to make connections between pieces, which makes it a very nice viewing experience,” García said.

In addition to being an artist and curator, Heap of Birds is also a writer, educator, and tribal leader.

The whole collection concentrates on issues, both past and present, that Native American tribes have had to deal with. However, the simple-but-loaded phrases that Edgar wrote are the most powerful elements of the exhibit.

It is clear that the exhibit is not just for art majors but a must-visit for all 5C students.

“My environmental history class visited the exhibition; it was cool how that relates because we were talking about colonialism and such. People at first are unable to make these connections,” García said.

García’s and Kersten’s favorite pieces include a bright blue beadwork strip by an unknown member of a California tribal group from the late 19th to early 20th century and the “spectacular” Murano glass vases by Heap of Birds.

They also both love the moccasin display.

“They still don’t have glass over them, so a viewer can get super close and really see the intricate beadwork,” Kersten said.

Another standout piece of the exhibit is a stunning female ceremonial robe with a geometric pattern on the top half, created from buckskin leather and a combination of blue, red, and pink glass beads. From the Lakota Sioux tribe, the piece is dated back to the late 19th century.

The Claremont community is fortunate to have such an incredible Native American exhibit. Native American products are recognized for their high standard of craftsmanship and have been a fascination of art collectors for many years. The 33 pieces in “Nuance of Sky” confirm this observation. The detail visible in each piece, from the Sioux baby bonnet to the Apache knife case, amplifies their beauty to the next level. 

“In melding pieces together with his contemporary work, Edgar Heap of Birds is allowing Native American cultural practices to live on,” Kersten said. “Art these days is very politicized, and what Edgar Heap of Birds is doing is reaffirming that there is a continuing Native American presence and that the culture is still very much alive.”

Nuance of Sky will be on display at the Pomona College Museum of Art through April 14, 2013.

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