Five Native artists get coveted Eiteljorg grants


NEW YORK - Five Native artists working in media from sculpture to prints to multi-textured installations will receive $20,000 cash grants and feature billing in a November exhibit at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Arts in Indianapolis.

The museum announced the recipients at a recent round-table discussion here. They are: Rick Bartow, Yurok/Mad River Band, of South Beach, Ore; Joe Feddersen, Colville Confederated Tribes, Lacey, Wash.; Teresa Marshall, M'ikmaq, Millbrook Reserve in Truro, Nova Scotia; Shelley Niro, Bay of Quinte Mohawk, Brantford, Ontario, and Susie Silook, Siberian Yupik/ Inupiaq, Anchorage, Alaska.

The museum is giving its Master Artist honor to the late Allan Houser, Chiricahua Apache, calling him "the patriarch of Native American contemporary art."

In its third year, the Eiteljorg Fellowship program "is the only national award being given to Native artists working in contemporary fine art," said Truman Lowe, a member of the selection committee. Lowe, Ho-Chunk, a 1999 fellow, is curator of contemporary art at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

The museum chose its fellows from 100 nominees. It will present a major exhibition of the selected artists to open Nov. 10 with a weekend of festivities. It also will publish a catalogue with essays for international distribution.

The pieces on display will range from the emotional, even tortured, paintings of Bartow to the delicate ivory carvings of Silook. Some works find their footing in tradition and then take an ironic leap into the modern world, as in Marshall's painting of an elaborately decorated costume that turns out to be a straight jacket, entitled "Bering Straight Jacket #1."

Feddersen contributes prints based on patterns "of the baskets of my ancestors of the Inland Plateau Region of the Columbia Basin." Niro broadens the range of the exhibit with several works on film.

The museum holds up Houser (1915 -1994) as a prime example of this leap forward. "He is credited with pushing Native American sculpture into the modern era without sacrificing its traditional, elemental and enduring quality," the selection statement read.

"He was a master in all sculptural media: stone, marble, limestone, alabaster, fabricated steel, plaster, clay and bronze. When he died in 1994 at the age of 80, he left a legacy of artwork of immeasurable, timeless beauty."

Houser also claimed a proud link to his Chiricahua Apache tribal past through his parents, Sam and Blossom Haozous. His father had been imprisoned for 27 years after the surrender of the Chiricahuas in 1886 and in confinement served as translator for Geronimo. Allan was born near Fort Sill, Okla., in 1914, a year after the Chiricahua prisoners were freed.

Each of this year's fellows has taken a distinctive path, ranging from academic to self-taught. Bartow, born 1946 in Newport, Ore., has a bachelor of arts degree and exhibited from Germany to New Zealand. Eiteljorg curator Jennifer Compo McNutt said his "very emotional" artwork might be some of the "most controversial" in the exhibit.

Silook was born in 1960 in Alaska. She says she learned her walrus-tusk ivory sculpting through being "self-taught and apprenticed with family members."

"Traditionally in Susie Silook's culture, it is men who are carvers. So she is challenging tradition simply by being a female carver," McNutt said.

Feddersen, born 1953 in Omak, Wash., earned a master of fine arts degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1989 and since then has been on the faculty of Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. He says his work "capitalizes on a personal connection of memory interwoven in pattern.

"Step patterns, mountain patterns and butterfly patterns are the linear structures of the compositions."

Marshall, born in 1962 in Nova Scotia, earned her degree in art education at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 1991. She has exhibited her installation art throughout Canada and across Europe and Asia. "Teresa takes a mundane idea like ironing or a spool of thread and turns it inside out to reveal its humor and the depth of interpretive possibilities it holds," McNutt said.

Shelley Niro, born in 1954 in Niagara Falls, N.Y., has her master of fine arts from the University of Western Ontario. Her work in photography has broadened into filmmaking. Her 1998 production "Honey Moccasin" swept four top awards at the Red Earth Film Festival in Oklahoma and won Best Film Award at the Dreamspeakers Festival in Alberta, Canada.

Shelley "may double you over with laughter or silence you with a truth that bears the weight of the world," McNutt said.

In spite of their disparate backgrounds, these artists might well subscribe to the comment of Silook: "Contrary to popular conception, I am not caught between two worlds. I am walking in many simultaneously."