Archive for July, 2020

Artist Interview: Chase Kahwinhut Earles

After recently acquiring a piece of Caddo pottery by Chase Kahwinhut Earles, we reached out to the artist at his home in Oklahoma to hear about his practice and process. Listen to his introductory message and read his Q&A conversation with Dr. Michelle Rich,The Ellen and Harry S. Parker III Assistant Curator of the Arts of the Americas at the DMA.

Chase: Kuha-ahat [Hello]. Kumbahkeehah Kahwinhut [My name is Kahwinhut]. Hello my name is Chase Kahwinhut Earles, and I’m a member of the Caddo Nation. I make traditional pottery and also contemporary pieces incorporating modern interpretations of our culture.

Chase Kahwinhut Earles, 2019. Photo by Travis Caperton, University of Oklahoma

Michelle: Can you describe the process by which you make your pottery?

Chase: I make pottery the ancestral, or traditional, Caddo way. I dig the clay myself from the banks of different rivers, mostly the Red River between Texas and Oklahoma. I process it to dry it and break it down into usable material. I collect and crush freshwater mussel shell to mix with the clay as a temper, which helps strengthen it so the vessels survive through the pit-firing process. All of my pieces are hand built using the coil method. I don’t use a wheel. After a piece dries, I burnish it with smooth stones to make it shiny. There’s no glaze. Then I pit fire the vessels. The final step is to engrave the design into the carbonized surface of the pots.

Photo by Travis Caperton, University of Oklahoma

Michelle: Pit firing is very different from kiln firing. Will you talk about that a little bit?

Chase: I fire my pots in a traditional pit fire. This is different than the modern kiln, which slowly heats the pottery until it gets to high temperatures. Our pit firing is started by stacking sticks and lighting an open ground fire. First, we heat the pottery near the fire to drive out moisture, and then they go right into the fire. I’ll add more wood, and the larger fire will get to a high enough temperature to vitrify the clay. You can see the pots start glowing! Sometimes things can go wrong, and if a pot gets overfired it will become fragile or might even spawl or crack. Large pieces, such as the Alligator Gar, can be fired in sections or with multiple fires.

Michelle: What inspired you to make Caddo pottery?

Chase: My parents took us to the Southwest when we were young. I loved and was inspired by the beautiful Pueblo pottery and wanted to make those beautiful pots. And I did learn how, but realized there was something not right about that, and I came to understand the difference between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation. That pointed me in the right direction—to look at my own tribe. I mean, why wouldn’t I have? But I didn’t expect to find anything. Lo and behold, we have one of the biggest pottery traditions in the country, but not many people know about it! Then my purpose was obvious. I dove in, obsessively learning everything about our tribe, our pottery tradition, and our techniques. Jeri Redcorn, a Caddo elder who revived Caddo pottery, helped me get started.

Photo by Travis Caperton, University of Oklahoma

Michelle: The words “contemporary” and “traditional” carry a lot of weight when describing Indigenous arts made in a customary fashion. Where do you situate your work?

Chase: The question of contemporary and traditional is complicated with Native American art, where these words are used to describe the difference between something that’s made in a modern manner or something that’s made exactly how we’ve made things forever. My work up to this point has been primarily trying to save our ancestral and traditional ways of making pottery, so it’s a very ancient style, method, and technique. The present-day definition of “contemporary” is that you’re a living artist. So, in fact, we can be contemporary and traditional at the same time—I’m a living artist producing fine art. But I thought it was important to learn and reestablish our ancestral way in order to have a base to move forward, evolve our work, contribute to Caddo culture, and develop a modern narrative.

Chase Kahwinhut Earles, Batah Kuhuh Alligator Gar Fish Effigy Bottle, 2018, Caddo, ceramic, Dallas Museum of Art, The Otis and Velma Davis Dozier Fund, 2020.9

Michelle: What does it mean to you to have the DMA acquire your work?

Chase: It means the world to me. When I set out to make pottery and art, specifically our tribal art, it was clear that not many people knew about the Caddo, even though we were once a huge, great society. And no one knew about the pottery, and the tradition kind of got forgotten. Having my work in institutions and museums like this is the ultimate goal—to share our beautiful artistic traditions with people and educate them about our identity, our culture, and our continued presence. So, on the scale of importance, it’s up there at the top!

Also, I can’t thank the DMA enough, especially for this opportunity. It goes a long way to educate people about the importance of Native American artwork in the context of American art. I applaud that effort and am very thankful for it.

Making the Mural: Behind the Scenes of “Landscape of a Lifetime”

In fall 2019, Sandra Cinto’s large-scale mural Landscape of a Lifetime was brought to life in the Museum’s Concourse by the artist, along with the help of some DMA staff and a team of artist assistants from around Dallas. The team spent roughly three weeks working on the 153-foot mural, which features 24 shades of blue shifting from night to day, intricate pen drawings of celestial elements such as stars and clouds, and low-level audio of crashing waves, rustling leaves, birds, and crickets.

Sandra Cinto and team working on the mural

To coincide with the recent launch of our virtual tour of the mural, we reached out to some of the participants who helped bring this work of art together and asked them to reflect on their experience. Here’s what they had to say:

“Learning Sandra’s simple drawing vocabulary of dots and lines, which we deployed in the cavernous Concourse in the form of stars, bridges, mountains, and clouds, created a link to an ancient human past of painting cave walls, tombs, temples, canyons, and shelters with an extended family that speaks a common language of art.” —Tino Ward

Sandra Cinto: Landscape of a Lifetime at the Dallas Museum of Art
Cinto working with an artist assistant

“Being an artist is a selfish pursuit. Even when it comes to a mural, helpers are treated as a necessary evil, paycheck players brought in to meet a deadline. Sandra Cinto is a magical exception to that rule. Her mural, Landscape of a Lifetime, allowed us lucky few to feel truly invested as this piece took shape, while Sandra deftly handled the key elements. Rather than keeping us at arm’s length, she built a nest in the clouds and drew us in. I was given the job of drawing stars. Up close, they seemed tedious and mundane, but when taken in from a distance, they shimmer—not unlike Sandra herself. I had the privilege of being part of a project that was communal in the best sense of the word—an enterprise of the spirit. Thank you, Sandra.” —Russell Sublette

“Working on Landscape of a Lifetime was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. The opportunity to learn from such a successful artist was an honor. I made many meaningful connections that I am eternally grateful for.” —Meena Valentine

Meena Valentine contributing to the mural

“Sandra Cinto firmly believes that everyone can draw. The elements that you see throughout the mural are composed of simple marks—the stars are lines radiating from a center point, the mountains quick penstrokes—but with many people drawing, they come together in a multitude to form a harmonious whole. That is another component of Sandra’s philosophy: communities of people can be an incredible source of love, care, and creative potential.” —Hilde Nelson

Hilde Nelson drawing delicate penstrokes
Cinto warmly giving an artist assistant a hug

Connections Across Collections: C3 Visiting Artists

The DMA’s C3 Visiting Artist Project offers opportunities for North Texas–based artists to create an interactive installation and facilitate programming around a theme related to the works in the C3 Gallery. Over the years, the project has showcased the talents of artists from many backgrounds and with various creative approaches and missions. We asked five former C3 Visiting Artists to respond to works in the DMA’s collection that resonate with them. Here’s what they had to say:

xtine burrough & Sabrina Starnaman 
Former C3 Visiting Artists, October–December 2017
Find out about their work through their project page and get to know them through their DMA interview.

Eyedazzler textile, Arizona, Navajo (Diné), 1880–90, wool with indigo and aniline dyes, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, anonymous gift, 2016.19.2.FA
 

Why they chose this work: Our artistic practice investigates the importance of work, especially work by women not credited to the maker. Women are the weavers in many cultures. The Navajo culture’s creation myth tells of Spider Woman, who taught people how to construct looms from the elements: sky, earth, sun, lightning, and crystals. We selected the eyedazzler textile to celebrate women’s work in textile technologies. 

Timothy Harding 
Former C3 Visiting Artist, JanuaryApril 2018
Find out about his work through his project page and get to know him through his DMA interview.

Charles Demuth, Buildings, 1930–31, tempera and plumbago on composition board, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Art Association Purchase Fund, Deaccession Funds/City of Dallas (by exchange) in honor of Dr. Steven A. Nash, 1988.21

Why he chose this work: I first encountered the work of Charles Demuth during my undergraduate studies in painting. Seeing how he rendered architectural subject matter with collapsed space and reduced elements helped me think differently about working through problems of paint and form.

Lisa Huffaker 
Former C3 Visiting Artist, JulySeptember 2017 
Find out about her work through her project page and get to know her through her DMA interview.

David McManaway, Jomo/Jomo #14, 1992, mixed media, Dallas Museum of Art, Texas Artists Fund, 1992.523

Why she chose this work: David McManaway’s Jomo/Jomo #14 houses talismanic objects in a shrine-like Wunderkammer that resonates with exponential, not just additive, significance. Likewise, I aspire to exceed the “sum of parts” as I bring fragments of the world into my art and writing.

Lauren Cross 
Former C3 Visiting Artist, September–December 2018
Find out about her work through her project page and get to know her through her DMA interview.

Annette Lawrence, Anna Cooper Lawrence, 1997, acrylic on paper, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Bryant M. Hanley, Jr., 1998.76, © Annette Lawrence

Why she chose this work: When I was first introduced to the work of Annette Lawrence, I saw so much of the work that I do reflected: the use of brown paper and the connection to personal narrative. Her work Anna Cooper Lawrence is not only related in its use of material but also in her use of family history, a key element in my own practice. My work at the DMA, Assembly, embodies all these qualities with visitors in its use of brown paper and its connection to the familiar among us. 

A Journey Through the Design of “My|gration”

What items would you take with you if you had a few hours to prepare for a weeklong trip? If you’re like me, you might drag your suitcase down from the storage shelf in the garage and lay out a few outfit options with a pair of good walking shoes, the necessary toiletries, phone charger, and books. But let’s imagine for a moment that we didn’t have a few hours to prepare, and our weeklong trip was actually a permanent move. What items would you choose if you were leaving your home forever and you could only take what you could carry? What if your move wasn’t your decision, and it was forced upon you? Or maybe your move was your decision and you are hoping for a better life with more opportunities?

This is the heartbeat of the exhibition My|gration, which is a play on words describing the personal journey of migration experienced by our community and by artists throughout history. As a graphic designer at the Museum, I was very excited to have the opportunity to take the lead in designing the environmental graphics for this exhibition. Working closely with the Interpretation, Education, and Exhibition teams, we wanted to create an exhibition that encouraged the visitor to experience the world from another person’s perspective, and in particular how life and art are affected by immigration or displacement.

As we started designing, we thought about the natural journey of the earth as it travels around the sun, bringing us day and night, dusk and dawn. We mirrored that with the idea that many people take similar journeys throughout their lives, with periods of light and dark, clarity and ambiguity. These thoughts informed our earthy and atmospheric color palette.

I started to create graphic elements that would help tie this metaphorical journey with the physical journey of movement and migration. I illustrated a compass rose that represented the many directions life could take us, both
emotionally and physically. We used suitcases and luggage tags to suggest the idea of items you might journey with. Then I started working with an illustrated map of Dallas, zooming in and making it the color of earth—a rusty, warm bronze. I laid it out at the bottom of the entry walls with a sunset gradient fading into a starry night sky.

As a focal point of the exhibition, DMA Head of Interpretation Dr. Emily Schiller provided facts about Dallas’s immigrant population to highlight the diversity in our own community. I used the illustrated map of Dallas here as well in this bilingual infographic.

The exhibition space was organized into sections featuring artwork that fell into three categories: Arrivals (artists who immigrated to the US), Departures (artists who emigrated from the US), and In Transit (art reflecting our connected world). For these section headers, I designed circular blade signs that mimicked ones you might see on the road or at a train station while traveling.

The circle used for the blade signs repeats itself throughout the graphics in the space. I used it frequently to suggest multiple meanings: (1) the rose compass, (2) the “you are here” icon on a map, and (3) the metaphorical idea that circles are continuous, much like the personal journeys of our lives.

Brittany Lowe is a graphic designer at the DMA.

Black Birders on What Humans Can Learn from Birds

Summer is a popular time for birding. Binoculars optional—all you really need to do is look and listen and you’ll see that birds are everywhere: working, singing, crafting. However, some birders know that they have to consider their own safety and security while viewing birds, not because of the dangers of wildlife but because of racism. With the recent viral video of the false police report made by a white woman against an African American man birding in Central Park, birding has become part of the national dialogue around race. Within 48 hours of the birder’s video post, which took place on the same day that George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, an enterprising group of nature enthusiasts, ecologists, and science educators joined forces to create the first ever Black Birders Week to bring awareness to issues of race and the outdoors. I spoke to three organizers of the group about the video, birds, art, and more.

From left: Nicole Jackson, Kassandra Ford, Ashley Gary

Nicole Jackson, Program Coordinator at The Ohio State University’s School of Environment and Natural Resources, told me that such incidents of racism directed at Black birders and outdoor enthusiasts “is something that happens more often than people realize.” Kassandra Ford, a PhD candidate in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, echoed this, saying, “I wish I could say I was surprised by [the video], but I wasn’t at all.” Ashley Gary, a freelance Science Communicator also known as The Wildlife Host, remarked, “It is exhausting to be a Black person because there are so many things you have to worry about.”

Although Black Birders Week was formed to address racial inequities, its aim is also to highlight the positive impacts of African Americans in birding, environmental work, and the STEM fields. I decided to ask these three founding members of Black Birders Week to weigh in on some works in the DMA’s collection depicting birds, since birds’ relationship to human society is nothing new, and in fact goes back millennia.

Pendant: bird-man, Tairona, 1200–1500, Tumbaga, Dallas Museum of Art, the Nora and John Wise Collection, bequest of Nora Wise, 1989.W.474

The first piece, a bird-man gold pendant, would have been worn around the neck by elite men in what is present-day Colombia. The piece may reflect the Tairona belief that religious leaders could temporarily leave their human form to embody animals and gain knowledge from them. This pendant shows a bird of prey in somewhat of a dual human-animal form as the bird wears earrings and perhaps a garment. I asked Kassandra for her insights on birds of prey. “Birds are just,” Kassandra then paused, “excuse my language—but they’re badass. They’re intense, they’re ferocious, especially birds of prey. They have an aura of pride and power in the way that they hold themselves, in the way that they dive-bomb prey. That kind of attitude is like a warrior.” Indeed the piece may very well have been worn with that same aplomb.

Dance headdress, Igbo peoples, mid-20th century, wood, paint, metal, and fiber, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., 1975.27.McD

This dance headdress by an artist of the Igbo of present-day southeastern Nigeria would have been worn in dynamic display during a masquerade. The carving depicts a seat for the spirits, of which the birds may be indicative as messengers to the spirit world. Ashley found the bird figures in this piece to be observing the activity from all angles, suggesting omniscience. She compared it to Edgar Allan Poe’s infamous Raven, who silently watches and knows all, as the poem goes: “the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core.”

Double-spout strap-handle vessel depicting a falcon, Paracas, 500–400 BCE, ceramic and resin-suspended paint,
Dallas Museum of Art, The Nora and John Wise Collection, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jake L. Hamon, the Eugene McDermott Family, Mr. and Mrs. Algur H. Meadows and the Meadows Foundation, Incorporated, and Mr. and Mrs. John D. Murchison, 1976.W.85

The double-spout vessel depicting a falcon is a funerary object from Peru’s Paracas peninsula. Many two-spouted vessels were musical devices that whistled when poured. Bird imagery is common in Paracas art, and music was also a crucial element of life, including in burial rituals, festivals, and ceremonial communications with ancestors. Since birds are among the most magisterial song makers in the animal kingdom, it seems fitting that a culture highly valuing music would also esteem an animal known for impressive sounds.

Bird calls play a major role in how birders learn to locate and learn about a bird’s life. Ashley noted that birds have the unique ability to sing two notes at once, since birds produce sounds from an organ called the syrinx, a two-sided voice box in their chest. According to author David Sibley, birds sing to communicate and mark territory. They can read their audience too, as they sing differently to mates than to rivals, and some species have over 200 songs in their repertoire. To find out more about bird behaviors, tune in to our Arts & Letters Live event with David Sibley, available now through July 28.

All three birders we interviewed spoke of the meditative aspect of birding, how it quiets the mind and fuels the spirit. The vast array of artistic depictions of birds, Nicole speculated, may reflect the dichotomy between the ubiquity of birds in our lives and their simultaneous mystery. “Birds are everywhere,” Nicole observed, “but there’s the dynamic that we don’t know everything about them. It’ll be a lifetime before you’re close to knowing everything about birds.” In a time when many people are aiming for social change, Nicole’s final observation struck me as a potent lesson to learn from the only surviving dinosaurs: “Birds are very resilient and very adaptable.” The intersection of nature and society also struck a note for me in one of Kassandra’s effusions about the pleasures of birding: “Birds can be unapologetically themselves without worrying about being judged.  We as humans can learn from them.”

Dr. Carolee Klimchock is a Program Manager for Arts & Letters Live at the DMA.


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