Contemporary Native American Art in Bigfork

Museum to host exhibit featuring Native American artists from June 5 – July 10

By Molly Priddy
"Wise Crows" by Ben Pease

When we talk about tradition, it’s often in the past tense – which traditions were born centuries ago, how they came to exist, and how they affect our lives now.

But in Bigfork, the Museum of Art and History is taking a look at tradition through the eyes of those creating it now for the future, in the upcoming exhibition, “Indigenous: A New Native America.”

The show will run from June 5 through July 10, with a reception for the artists on June 5 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

As a show, the exhibition’s purpose is to focus on contemporary Native American artists and their work, serving up a broad range of mediums, craftsmanship, and visual art.

Museum director Marnie Forbis said the show will feature works with elements of North American indigenous culture, with contemporary or historical significance and rooted in Montana.

It’s also a departure from the norm for the museum, which Forbis believes is a positive way to expand not only the museum’s horizons, but the horizons of the visitors as well.

“We haven’t done a Native American show, ever,” she said. “I think it’ll be neat for people to be able to see something different for a change.”

Part of the Bigfork Museum of Art and History’s mandate is to showcase work from emerging artists as well as the established and popular artists. This exhibit serves both pieces of that mandate, she said.

Artists in the show include Dion Albert (Salish); David Dragon Fly (Blackfeet); Valentina La Pier (Blackfeet); Susan Matovich (Gros Ventre); Lauren Monroe Jr. (Blackfeet); Darrell Normand (Blackfeet); Ben Pease (Crow Nation/Cheyenne); Ron Schlenske (Blackfeet); Tracy Tevis (Salish); and Shadowhawke (Abenaki).

Along with being one of the artists in the show, Shadowhawke also serves as the president of the museum’s board, and has been on the board in the past. The “Indigenous” show was her idea, coming to her after she realized there hadn’t been a solely Native show at the museum.

“With the exhibits over the years, I’ve noticed there’s a lot of great exhibits but there were no exhibits devoted specifically to the Native American artists in this region,” she said. “There are (non-Native) people who also do Native American paintings, but I just thought the Native people in this area, why not dedicate an exhibit just for their work?”

Shadowhawke also wanted the show to feature the latest in Native American art, not just the traditional pieces. The artists in the show were asked to submit 20 pieces, which were then jury selected for the exhibit.

The result is a colorful, bright, and “well put-together” show, Shadowhawke said.

“I think people are going to be a little surprised, because it’s different,” she said. “I think when you say it’s a Native show, they’re going to think beadwork, bows and arrows, the traditional thing, but they’re going to see some original work.”

Pieces in the show include works in oil, acrylic, mixed media, feathers, photography, and leatherwork.

Some of it falls into the traditional vein, such as the ledger art, but overall the show highlights the artists’ evolution as they make their way in the art world while also maintaining solid connections to their traditional roots.

“I decided to pull it together and see if there were new-age Natives who weren’t just doing the beading and the traditional things but who have stepped out of the box,” Shadowhawke said.

And in Bigfork, which boasts galleries and a dedication to the arts, this show will bring a new perspective for its viewers.

“I think it’s going to be very different,” Shadowhawke said. “But I think people are going to get a new appreciation for a different look.”

“Indigenous: A New Native America” runs at the Bigfork Museum of Art and History from June 5 to July 10. For more information, call the museum at 406-837-6927 or go to www.bigforkmuseum.org.

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