BILLINGS — The Northcutt Steele Gallery at Montana State University Billings is presenting Continuum, a group exhibition of prints and mixed-media works by contemporary American Indian artists. The exhibition is curated by Nikolyn Garner (Kickapoo/Oneida/Cherokee) and on loan from the Missoula Museum of Art. Continuum remains on view through Oct. 3.
Native American art is often approached through dichotomies. Is the work fine art or craft? Traditional or contemporary? The desire to neatly categorize individual expressions has often overshadowed the varied histories, traditions, and tribal life experiences that inform any work of art.
In response, Continuum aims to “. . . reflect the continually developing, adapting, and exploratory voices of contemporary American Indian artists,” according to the curator. Drawn from the permanent collection of the Missoula Art Museum, the exhibition includes works by Neil Ambrose-Smith, Corwin Clairmont, Jason Elliot Clark, Ric Gendron, John Hitchcock, George Longfish, Neil Parsons, Ernie Pepion, Sara Siestreem, Duane Slick, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Larry Thomas, Marie Watt, Dwayne Wilcox, and Melanie Yazzie. The collection offers a stunning array of media and techniques and represents the perspectives of artists from thirteen different tribal affiliations.
Continuum is sponsored by the Montana Art Gallery Directors Association and supported in part by grants from the Montana Arts Council, funds from Montana’s Cultural and Aesthetic Projects Trust Fund, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Featured in the gallery adjacent to Continuum are selected ledger drawings from MSUB’s Barstow Collection. These drawings offer a poignant visual history of the Apsáalooke (Crow) and Hidatsa (Gros Ventre of the Missouri) in Montana during the last decades of the nineteenth century.
From 1879 through 1897, the Native peoples who had been confined at the Crow Agency received drawing materials from Bureau of Indian Affairs clerks, teachers, agents, and army officers and created drawings, often on ledger papers, documenting their histories and experiences.
Charles H. Barstow, chief clerk for the Bureau, was among those who supported the efforts to have those confined visually record their stories. He collected many of these drawings. In 1930, sixty-six drawings from Barstow’s collection were discovered in a trunk in Roundup, Montana. Through the efforts of Ruthann Wilbur Hines, these works came to be held by Eastern Montana College (now MSUB).
A catered reception for both exhibitions will be held in the first floor lobby of the Liberal Arts Building immediately in front of the gallery beginning at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 19. The exhibition and reception are free and open to the public.