Saturday, September 14, 2013

Grand Procession: Dolls from the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection

Where: National Museum of the American Indian

When: through January 5, 2014

This show is in the small exhibit gallery on the 2nd floor, which means that I could take a bit of time to look at each doll on display.  When the NMAI has a big exhibit in their 3rd floor space, I'm rushing to see everything in a lunch hour.

There are five artists' work on display here, including three artists from one family: a grandmother, mother and daughter.  All of the artists have won awards for their dolls, so what you're seeing is top-flight craft.

A Grand Procession opens every powwow and is an opportunity for members of a tribe to don their regalia and dance into the arena.  This was a tradition of the Plains and Plateau tribes in the 1700s and 1800s.  These dolls from the Diker Collection are doing much the same thing, albeit in a static way.  Happily, most of the dolls are in display cases that allow you to see them from all sides.  There is as much ornamentation on the back as there is on the front.

Jamie Okuma is the first artist featured.  She is quoted as saying, " Each piece has lived through whatever was going on in my life at the time I was making it."  There is a piece of her biography in each doll.  The faces on her dolls are basically blank.  One is not distracted by the face of the doll, and so can concentrate on the incredible craftsmanship that goes into each piece.  The costumes are amazing, especially considering how small they are.  Rhonda Holy Bear does paint faces on her dolls; they wear expressions that seem to show both serenity and determination.

The Growing Thunder family's dolls make up the rest of the show.  Juanita Growing Thunder Fogarty and her mother, Joyce Growing Thunder both had dolls on display in the "A Song for the Horse Nation" show that was at NMAI some months ago.  The faces on these dolls are also quite generic, so you notice the bead and quill work on the costumes.  Jessa Rae Growing Thunder is the daughter of Juanita; all of them create dolls that are very much in the same style.  I'd be hard pressed to tell one from the other.  Juanita is quoted as saying, "You can't do it if you are upset.  You make mistakes and have to backtrack."  This reminded me quite strongly of the show I saw at African Art several years ago about basket weaving.  One of those artists was quoted saying almost the same thing.  Clearly, the tortured lives of the great painters means you can toss paint around no matter your mood, but for work as intricate as this - you need to be as serene and determined as Rhonda Holy Bear's dolls look.

Verdict: If you have any interest in Native American art or dolls in general, do not miss this amazing collection of artwork.

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