Kosha Appreciating Anything, 1997. Roxanne Swentzell (b. 1962), Santa Clara, New Mexico. Clay and pigment, 16 x 13 x 17", Purchase: the Donald D. Jones Fund for American Indian Art, 2003.22.

A Gallery for American Art Made before Contact with European Peoples

Animal Skin Tobacco Bag, ca. 1820. North American Indian, Eastern Plains. Animal skin, porcupine quills, wool cloth, silk ribbon, bird claws, brass bells and buttons, glass beads, metal cones, feather and animal hair. Anonymous gift, 2002.24.

Sauk Bag.

Eskimo Mask.

Kwakiutl-Dzunukwa Mask, One of the most masterful depictions of Dzunukwa, or Wild Woman of the Woods, an 1870 mask from British Columbia, Dzunukwa was a creature believed to carry off wandering or misbehaving children. Stories of her presence were intended to keep children close to home. This dramatic work conveys the convincing impression of a half-animal, half-human creature of the forest, From the Estelle and Morton Sosland Collection.

Shell Mask Gorget, ca. 1500-1700. North American Indian, Late Mississippian Culture. Marine shell. Purchase: acquired as a gift by friends in honor of Fred and Virginia Merrill, 2004.30.

Tlingit Swan Mask, A powerful wooden Swan Mask from the Tlingit tribe of Southeast Alaska, from the early 19th century, ca. 1800-1830. The beak is hinged with leather, which would have allowed it to open during performances, giving the mask a lifelike appearance in the firelight. This dramatic effect would have been intensified by the reflective abalone shell inlays, From the Estelle and Morton Sosland Collection.

Bill Reid (1920-1998), Haida, British Columbia. Model Totem Pole, ca. 1965. Argillite, 13-1/8 x 3-5/8 x 3-7/8", An extraordinary argillite Model Totem Pole, ca. 1965, one of only four by renowned Northwest Coast artist Bill Reid. It is considered one of the finest argillite carvings within the tradition off model poles begun around 1880. Reid has created an intricately detailed and complex carving that depicts an eagle, frog, human figures, bear mother and cubs and killer whale, From the Estelle and Morton Sosland Collection, 2009.41.26.

Cheyenne Feather Headdress.

Captain’s Coat, Ojibwa, Ontario, Canada, ca. 1789. Native leather, rawhide, pigment, porcupine quills, glass beads, and deer hair, 48-7/8 x 27-5/8", Gift of Ned Jalbert in honor of the 75th anniversary of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and funds from the exchange of William Rockhill Nelson Trust properties, 2008.

 

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
4525 Oak Street
816-751-1278
Kansas City
American Indian Galleries
Open November 11, 2009

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art unveils a new suite of American Indian galleries honoring and giving new emphasis to the artistic achievement of Native peoples from across North America. With more than 6,100 square feet, the three galleries will be among the largest devoted to American Indian art in any comprehensive art museum in the world and will quadruple the amount of space previously devoted to American Indian art at the Nelson-Atkins.

The galleries are adjacent to the Museum’s recently reinstalled American galleries. This location reflects a bold philosophical shift at the Nelson-Atkins, defining the art of Native peoples as an essential part of our nation’s heritage.

“It is our intent to present American Indian art as an important part of America’s cultural legacy,” said Marc F. Wilson, the Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell Director/CEO at the Museum. “Together, the American galleries and the new American Indian galleries will provide visitors with an uninterrupted, contiguous look at the achievements of American artists from pre-European contact to the present, something rarely if ever done by a fine arts museum.”

The galleries showcase nearly 200 works of American Indian art, including a number of recognized masterworks. The scope encompasses pre-historic works of art to contemporary and embraces most of the North American native cultures. While the cultural and historical significance of each object is acknowledged, the primary focus of the installation is artistic quality, in contrast to displaying works as cultural artifacts or historical relics of past civilizations.

The Nelson-Atkins’ effort to expand the collection and reinterpret its presentation has been led by Gaylord Torrence, the Fred and Virginia Merrill Senior Curator of American Indian Art. Torrence, who arrived at the Nelson-Atkins in 2002 as founding curator of the Museum’s first Department of American Indian Art, is recognized as one of the nation’s foremost authorities in the field. “The Nelson-Atkins has benefitted greatly from Gaylord’s vision, passion and expertise,” said Morton Sosland, a Kansas City businessman who has supported the initiative. “He has focused the Museum’s original collection and dramatically expanded the number of key historical and contemporary works.”

Mr. Sosland and his wife Estelle contributed greatly to the effort by giving the Museum their extraordinary collection of Northwest Coast art, considered one of the finest private American Indian Collections in the country.

Active on behalf of the Kansas City community, Estelle and Morton Sosland have been involved with the Nelson-Atkins for nearly six decades. Their collection of American Indian art, built over the past 50 years, represents a commitment to connoisseurship that contains superb examples of Northwest Coast artistry, a region defined as the narrow strip of land bordered by the Pacific Ocean and the Cascade Mountains, from Vancouver Island to Alaska’s Yakutat Bay.

"This gift is a triumph of selflessness, said Marc F. Wilson, the Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell Director/CEO of the Nelson-Atkins. "Morton and Estelle followed their own keen interest in works of the Pacific Northwest and combined that passion with counsel from experts and scholars to assemble this remarkable collection. These works of art have been part of their intimate daily lives, and now they are sharing them with the public at large. It is a fitting capstone to their decades of service to the Museum and an act of enormous generosity."

"The Sosland Collection is one of the most outstanding groups of Northwest Coast Indian objects in the nation and includes a significant number of true masterworks," said Steve Brown, former associate curator of Native American Art at the Seattle Art Museum and a leading authority on Northwest Coast objects. "Estelle and Morton Sosland have been thoughtful and dedicated collectors who have passionately pursued some of the finest examples of Northwest Coast art.

The expansion and reinterpretation of the Museum’s collection have been led by Gaylord Torrence, the Fred and Virginia Merrill Senior Curator of American Indian Art at the Nelson-Atkins and one of the nation’s foremost authorities in the field. Torrence arrived at the Nelson-Atkins in 2002 as founding curator of the Museum’s first Department of American Indian Art.

"This collection is transformative for the Nelson-Atkins and is especially significant because of the extraordinary objects from the Northwest Coast cultures," Torrence said. "The Museum’s original holdings in this area were limited, and the Sosland Collection allows us to present a comprehensive view of Native American art that we otherwise could not have done. It greatly broadens our presentation."

The Soslands began collecting American Indian art more than half a century ago, drawn to works from the Northwest Coast by their sculptural beauty and emotional power. These are objects usually created amid rich family and cultural traditions. The Sosland Collection prioritizes the aesthetic rather than anthropological value of each object, a philosophy reflected in the Nelson-Atkins galleries.

"Because of its natural setting, the civilizations in this area had few concerns about food supply or weather conditions and consequently considered making superb art to be the highest mark of success," Mr. Sosland noted. "At the Nelson-Atkins, American Indian art is placed on equal footing with the arts of other civilizations. Estelle and I are thrilled to give our collection to an institution that so recognizes — and celebrates — the standing of American Indian art."

The Sosland Collection began with the purchase in the 1960s of a headdress frontlet from a New York dealer. Soon after, they greatly expanded their holdings with the purchase of a private collection assembled by Denver Art Museum curator Norman Feder, a well-known scholar in the field. Many works in the collection have been exhibited in important exhibitions across the country, including Sacred Circles at the Nelson-Atkins in 1977, now considered a landmark in the recognition of American Indian art. Over the years, significant pieces were selectively added and the collection expanded to include contemporary Northwest and Arctic basketry. Most recently, works were acquired at auction and from the collection of George Terasaki, a preeminent dealer and authority on Northwest Coast works.

Highlights from the Sosland collection include the following masterworks:

One of the most masterful depictions of Dzunukwa, or Wild Woman of the Woods, an 1870 mask from British Columbia. Dzunukwa was a creature believed to carry off wandering or misbehaving children. Stories of her presence were intended to keep children close to home. This dramatic work conveys the convincing impression of a half-animal, half-human creature of the forest;

A powerful wooden Swan Mask from the Tlingit tribe of Southeast Alaska, from the early 19th century, ca. 1800–1830. The beak is hinged with leather, which would have allowed it to open during performances, giving the mask a lifelike appearance in the firelight. This dramatic effect would have been intensified by the reflective abalone shell inlays;

A headdress frontlet, ca. 1850, one of several masterworks from generations of the Edenshaw family of the Haidas. This carved wooden frontlet would have been worn on the forehead as the primary element of an elaborate ceremonial headdress. It is attributed to Albert
Edward Edenshaw of Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia;

An extraordinary argillite Model Totem Pole, ca. 1965, one of only four by renowned Northwest Coast artist Bill Reid. It is considered one of the finest argillite carvings within the tradition off model poles begun around 1880. Reid has created an intricately detailed and complex carving that depicts an eagle, frog, human figures, bear mother and cubs and killer whale.

For more than five decades, Morton and Estelle Sosland have had many roles at the Nelson-Atkins as volunteers, leaders and benefactors, including fund-raising efforts in support of the Generations Campaign and in behalf of the Museum’s campus expansion and endowment fund.

During the 1990s, the Soslands led their family in commissioning Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen to create the Shuttlecocks sculptures that grace the Museum’s Kansas City Sculpture Park, now icons for both the Museum and Kansas City. The Sosland Foundation supports social services, education, health and cultural efforts, and was responsible for establishing the Sanders Sosland Curatorship of 20th-Century Art at the Museum in the 1980s. Mr. Sosland’s uncle, Samuel Sosland, endowed the curatorship of American Art at the museum.

Mrs. Sosland is immediate past Chair of the Museum’s Board of Trustees. She held that position during the 2007 opening of the Bloch Building, the acclaimed expansion of the Museum. As a trustee, she served on various committees and was chair of the Committee on Collections, a group that reviews acquisitions and gifts to the Museum. She also headed the Education Committee for a number of years. For many early years, she was a volunteer in the Museum’s Sales and Rental Gallery, which featured the work of regional artists and offered art for sale or rent at a time when Kansas City had few fine art galleries. Mrs. Sosland is a lifelong Kansas City resident who attended Notre Dame de Sion and is a graduate of Smith College.

Mr. Sosland is chairman emeritus of Sosland Publishing Co., which publishes Milling & Baking News, Food Business News, and World Grain, with readers in more than 100 countries. The company, started in Kansas City in 1922 to serve the food and grain industry, is now in its fourth generation of family management and ownership. Mr. Sosland is also a native of Kansas City and a graduate of Harvard College. He currently serves on the boards of the Sosland Foundation, H&R Block Foundation and Hall Family Foundation. He previously held a wide range of civic responsibilities and also has been a member of numerous corporate boards.

The Soslands make their home in Kansas City and also in West Sussex, England. They are international travelers who have collected not only American Indian art but also ethnographic works and contemporary art. They have three children, four grandchildren and three great-granddaughters.

The involvement of the community, contemporary Native artists, scholars, collectors and dealers has created what Wilson terms “a unique grounding for the Museum’s initiative.”

“The Nelson-Atkins is strongly committed to the recognition of American Indian art, and we are equally committed to exhibiting the work of contemporary artists in addition to those of earlier periods,” Wilson said. “We believe these new galleries will place the Nelson-Atkins in the forefront of America’s general art museums exhibiting in the field.”

“It is our goal in this new installation to present the extraordinary vision of Native American artists, from many cultures and throughout time,” Torrence said. “These objects communicate the creative expression of their individual makers; at the same time, they reflect the profound cultural traditions that underlie the meaning and power embodied within each work.”

Grouped by eight main culture areas of North America, the new installation will include masterworks from a wide spectrum of cultures from pre-European contact to the present, including Woodlands, Plains, Southwest; Plateau; California and the adjacent Great Basin, Northwest Coast and Arctic. Navajo textiles, Woodlands and Plains quillwork, beadwork and sculpture, Pueblo pottery, Southwestern jewelry, Northwest Coast sculpture and California and Plateau basketry are among the artistic traditions represented in the Museum’s collection.

Select acquisition and new installation highlights on view in the new galleries include:

A rare, late 18th-century Ojibwa coat. This buffalo-skin coat embodies the dynamic cultural exchange that characterized the beaver trade during the North American Colonial period. It reflects a complex blending of Woodland and Plains Indian artistic traditions as well as European fashion, patterned after an English officer’s coat of the period of George III. It is one of only 18 known examples of its kind and the only example in an American public institution;

A contemporary work by the artist Roxanne Swentzell, Kosha Appreciating Anything, 1997. Recognized as one of the leading contemporary Native American artists, Swentzell continues the long tradition of Pueblo figurative sculpture, which includes objects produced for both ritual purposes and the outside market. This sacred being — a Pueblo clown, or Kosha — stares at his hand as though realizing for the first time its complexity and, through it, the mystery of life;

An 1850 shield, a masterpiece of Plains Indian visionary painting. This shield and cover (shown on front) from the Arikara is embellished with the image of a buffalo bull, the owner’s guardian spirit, which would have been revealed to him in a vision during a prolonged period of fasting and prayer. The intensity of the artist’s experience is conveyed through the precise delineation of form, the handling of paint, and the dramatic depiction of the animal itself, with upswept horns and unwavering gaze.

A rare Pawnee split horn headdress, ca. 1840. The work, donated to the Museum in 2007, is one of the few Pawnee objects preserved from the historic period. It would have transformed the warrior who wore it into a horned figure, reflecting an ancient Woodland pictorial tradition whereby the addition of horns signified supernatural power. Worn by a man of rank and military achievement, it was believed to endow the owner with sacred power and protection in battle;

A contemporary basketry hat by Haida artists Primrose Adams and Robert Davidson. This collaborative work continues the long Northwest Coast tradition of woven and painted basketry rain hats. Both makers, the weaver and the painter, are recognized as contemporary masters of their respective arts. The painted image represents a shark, one of the important clan
emblems of the Haida people. Its highly stylized, precisely painted figure is adjusted perfectly to fit the hat’s finely woven, conical form.

The Nelson-Atkins has exhibited American Indian art since its inception in 1933, a time when few art museums were featuring this material. The new galleries underscore the Museum’s long-term commitment with the display of its early acquisitions from the George Gustav Heye collection in New York and the Fred Harvey Company, in addition to important gifts throughout the Museum’s ensuing 75-year history.

Torrence built on the rich foundations of these early acquisitions and has led the Department in a significant expansion, bringing in new works from private collections, dealers and Native artists to join the Museum’s already distinguished collection. Those acquisitions include a large number of contemporary works, including masterworks by living artists.

Each of the new galleries bears the name of principal supporters of this effort: John and Marilyn McConnell, John A. and Patricia Morgan, and Fred and Virginia Merrill.

Previously the American Indian galleries were located within about 1,500 square feet on the third floor of the Nelson-Atkins. The new galleries are located in space previously occupied by the Modern & Contemporary galleries, which were moved to the Bloch Building when the expansion opened in 2007.

With these new galleries, the Nelson-Atkins assumes a leadership role in the promotion and display of American Indian objects as works of fine art, extending the tradition of the institution’s landmark 1977 exhibition Sacred Circles.

 

Shield, Arikara, North Dakota, ca. 1850. Buffalo rawhide, native leather, and native pigment, diameter: 20", An 1850 shield, a masterpiece of Plains Indian visionary painting. This shield and cover (shown on front) from the Arikara is embellished with the image of a buffalo bull, the owner’s guardian spirit, which would have been revealed to him in a vision during a prolonged period of fasting and prayer. The intensity of the artist’s experience is conveyed through the precise delineation of form, the handling of paint, and the dramatic depiction of the animal itself, with upswept horns and unwavering gaze. Purchase: the Donald D. Jones Fund for American Indian Art, 2004.35.