Celebrate the dynamic creativity of 20th-century Native American painter, poet, and musician T.C. Cannon — and more horizon-expanding exhibitions.
We think T.C. Cannon would have approved: As part of a major exhibition of the work of the influential Native American painter, the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, commissioned Choctaw alt-folk musician Samantha Crain to write music and perform a song in response to the late artist’s most monumental work, the 22-foot mural Epochs in Plains History: Mother Earth, Father Sun, the Children Themselves (1976-77).
In her review of the exhibition in The Boston Globe, Cate McQuaid conveys the effect of seeing one of Cannon’s last works and hearing Crain honor it:
“In 1976, Cannon was invited by Seattle to paint a mural, Epochs in Plains History: Mother Earth, Father Sun, the Children Themselves. It begins in darkness, leads to a vibrant sun dance, and ends with a Native American of the present in a Stetson and jeans. Unlike most of Cannon’s paintings, which sift through the vagaries of history, it is largely triumphant. Choctaw songwriter Samantha Crain has written a song, “One Who Stands in the Sun,” which plays where the mural is displayed.
“With Crain’s rippling chords and mournful melody, the majestic mural turns bittersweet. Such is the legacy of the Plains people, and of T.C. Cannon himself, who died in 1978. Driving home late one night in Santa Fe, his car went off the road and into a ditch. He was 31.”
Until June 10 you can see the mural, hear both Samantha Crain and T.C. Cannon sing, ponder Cannon’s short but important career, and generally celebrate the artist’s creative range and artistic legacy through 70 paintings and works on paper at the Peabody Essex Museum, and later at Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in New York.
The first major exhibition to look at the artist’s multiple forms of creative expression, T.C. Cannon: At the Edge of America includes his art alongside his poetry and country-folk style music. The result is a compelling and complex perspective on Cannon’s art and life as well as his political activism and fascination with history and culture.
Although he drew and sketched prolifically, Cannon produced no more than 50 major canvases and just a handful of exquisite woodblock prints and linocuts before the car accident that tragically ended his life.
His images embody the activism, cultural transition, and creative expression that defined America in the turbulent 1960s and ’70s.
Cannon lived it. Born in 1946 and raised by his Kiowa father and Caddo mother, Tommy Wayne (T.C.) Cannon grew up in a rural farming community in southeastern Oklahoma. He came of age during the social and cultural ferment of the Sixties and left home in 1964 for the experimental new Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe. It was there that he found his artistic footing.
Two years into his training, Cannon painted what is arguably the most significant of his early works: Mama and Papa Have the Going Home Shiprock Blues (1966): “Now understood as the painting that spurred the revolutionary New Indian Art movement of the 1960s, the work captures Cannon’s place at the crossroads of Native American and American cultures at a time when the definitions of both were up for debate,” explain press materials for the exhibition.
You can “hear” Cannon painting it. The artist often listened to music in his studio and created paintings from songs and vice versa. The companion song for Mama and Papa Have the Going Home Shiprock Blues — preserved in an original, rarely heard audio recording by the artist — plays in the exhibition galleries.
Two years after creating that watershed work, at the height of the counterculture movement, and in the Kiowa warrior tradition, Cannon enlisted in the U.S. Army and spent almost a year in Vietnam. While he earned two Bronze Star medals for his service in the Tet Offensive as a paratrooper, he was conflicted about the experience. In his poetry, letters, and art, his disillusionment and changing views about America’s violent history began to find expression.
“Through Cannon’s figurative work, he rejected the accepted, expected representations of Native ritual life and instead chose to surface issues of the brutal traumas wrought by colonialism and power dynamics,” says Peabody Essex Museum curator Karen Kramer. “Concurrently, through his paintings, poetry, and music, he also emphasized the ways in which Native Americans persisted and thrived — sometimes in quietly radical everyday ways — in the face of oppression.”
In 1972, Cannon hit the national stage in a significant way when the National Collection of Fine Art, now the Smithsonian American Art Museum, invited him and his former instructor Fritz Scholder to be in a two-person exhibition, Two American Painters: Fritz Scholder and T.C. Cannon. The exhibition was a landmark success, and almost all of Cannon’s canvases were literally bought off the walls by Jean Aberbach, the owner-dealer of Madison Avenue’s Aberbach Gallery. Aberbach signed Cannon with the gallery, which would represent him nationally and internationally for the rest of his life.
The exhibition went on to tour Berlin, Belgrade, Istanbul, Madrid, and London, fueling Cannon’s confidence and his career.
“[His] fusion of iconographic images with complex color symbolism and geometric patterns, where his mythic Indians met modernity, and a political gaze became ever-present.”
During his life, Cannon’s artwork gave voice to a restless generation. Decades after his death, his life’s work continues to influence and inspire.
Through June 10, see T.C. Cannon: At the Edge of America at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. The exhibition then travels to the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, July 14 – October 7, 2018, and the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in New York, March 16 – September 16, 2019. The book T.C. Cannon: At the Edge of America, by Karen Kramer, is available on Amazon.com.
Peabody Essex Museum, 978.745.9500.
MORE ART EXHIBITIONS
Through May 28
Only the Oaks Remain: The Story of Tuna Canyon Detention Station
Photographs, letters, and diaries tell the true stories of the Japanese, German, and Italian immigrants and Japanese Peruvians who were targeted as dangerous enemy aliens and imprisoned in a converted Civilian Conservation Corps camp in the Tujunga neighborhood of Los Angeles during World War II. The exhibit commemorates the history of the detention station and seeks to educate the public about the violation of civil rights that took place there. Santa Barbara Historical Museum, Santa Barbara, California, 805.966.1601.
Through May 31
The Reredos of Chimayo
Two important 19th-century reredos, or altar screens, originating from private chapels in Chimayo, New Mexico, were recently discovered in the estate of artist Harry Brorby of Tucson, Arizona. Jed and Samantha Foutz, owners of Shiprock Santa Fe, became aware of the Chimayo reredos when local Santa Fe art dealer Will Channing was enlisted by the Brorby Estate to find a buyer for the artifacts. The Foutzes embraced Channing’s conviction that the altar screens should be returned to New Mexico and agreed to exhibit the reredos at their gallery, allowing scholars and Spanish colonial art enthusiasts to view the screens for the first time in more than 40 years. The larger of the two wooden reredos measures 12 x 8 feet and is hand-painted with depictions of nine Catholic saints. The screen is thought to date back to 1850. The smaller screen — measuring 8 x 6 1/2 feet and dated and signed 1865 — features images of Saint Rita, Our Lady of Solitude, Jesus of Nazareth, and other religious figures. Shiprock Santa Fe, Santa Fe, 505.982.8478.
Through May 31
Museum of Selfies
Here’s one for you social media buffs. This pop-up exhibition promises to change the way you view selfies by examining them through lenses of art, psychology, and culture. Interactive exhibits allow visitors to take their own selfies in an array of unusual and visually interesting situations. The Museum of Selfies, Glendale, California, 888.718.4253.
Through June 3
Testament of the Spirit: Paintings of Eduardo Carrillo
The large-scale oil paintings of this artist, teacher, and social activist have been described as mystical, realistic, surreal, and visionary, while his intimate watercolors reflect his daily life through self-portraits, still lifes, and images of people and places Carrillo held dear. The exhibition of more than 60 artworks highlights the painter’s creative achievements and social importance. Pasadena Museum of California Art, Pasadena, California, 626.568.3665.
Through June 10
Eyes of Texas: A Century of Artistic Visions
A survey of Texas art from 1850 to 1950, this exhibition highlights artists’ differing approaches to capturing the Lone Star State over different stylistic periods. Frank Reaugh, Julian Onderdonk, Emma Richardson Cherry, and 22 other artists are represented in 35 pieces, many on view for the first time. Four landscapes — bluebonnet scenes by Porfirio Salinas, Onderdonk, and Jessie Palmer, and a cactus scene by Dawson Dawson-Watson — help put the movement from impressionism to regionalism into context and showcase the enduring appeal of the Texas landscape. The Bryan Museum, Galveston, Texas, 409.632.7685.
Through June 11
Beau Dick: Revolutionary Spirit
Deeply rooted in the traditions of his Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation, Beau Dick also challenged them to create a distinctive cultural voice both within and outside of his nation. This retrospective looks at his legacy and provides insight into the complexities of traditional and contemporary Indigenous approaches to the creation of art on the West Coast. Audain Art Museum, Whistler, British Columbia, Canada, 604.962.0413.
Through June 24
Observing the West: The Art of Howard Post
Cowboys, horses, corrals, and wide-open pastures painted in the highly recognizable style and color palette of Howard Post are the focus of an exhibition examining the prolific 30-year career of the third-generation Arizonan. Post’s paintings, drawings, and sculpture borrow from the lifestyle he knows best: ranching and rodeo. The show travels to Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg, Arizona, July 20 – November 25. Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block, Tucson, Arizona, 520.624.2333.
May 25 – 27
Native Treasures Indian Arts Festival
Taos Pueblo jeweler Maria Samora, the 2018 MIAC Living Treasure and Native Treasures Featured Artist, will be one of more than 200 invitation-only Native American artists — both masters and emerging — participating in what is touted as Santa Fe’s only museum-quality art show and sale. The artists, many of whom are included in the museum’s permanent collections, represent many tribes and pueblos, as well as a wide range of art forms from traditional to contemporary. Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, Santa Fe, 505.982.7799.