Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Heard Sculptures

We entered the Heard Museum of Native Culture and Art in Phoenix by way of the courtyard.

The present Museum is eight times larger than the original building that was completed in 1929. We passed the café on the left and the gift shop on the right.

As we entered this area our pace slowed. Just in front of the entrance was this water sculpture. We considered taking a seat in the café's outdoor dining area and just enjoying the sounds of the water.

At the Museum's entrance was "Earth Song," an Alabama Marble sculpture by Allan Houser (a Chiricahua Apache). Houser has been referred to as the Grandfather of Contemporary Native American sculpture. He has without question had the most influence in establishing the cannons of Native sculpture.

"Earth Song," depicts an Apache man singing a song of respect, a prayer to Mother Earth. The rhythm of his prayer is measured by the beats of his water drum as he sings to thank the earth for sustaining all living forms.

One of the sculptures in the courtyard was this bronze sculpture of Hopi women.

"Khwee-seng (Woman-man)," a bronze sculpture by Nora Naranjo-Morse (Santa Clara Pueblo), shows two abstracted human forms grouped together, not side by side, but rather with the female figure placed slightly in front of the male. This placement is a recognition of the role of women in traditional Santa Clara culture.

"In the Aspens, Imagining the Earth, 2000," is a bronze sculpture by Nora Naranjo-Morse (Santa Clara Pueblo). We were encouraged to take the path through the aspens, represented by the bronze branches placed in the ground.

"Woman in Love," is a stainless steel sculpture by Robert Haozous (Chiricahau/Navajo). Haozous has chosen to take back his Apache family name and to reject the anglo version--Houser--the name that was given to his father Allan Houser as a child in an Oklahoma Indian boarding school.

"Woman in Love," is a joyful celebration of love and life. The figure floats in ecstacy. Her angelic smile is echoed by the crescent curve of her body. The surface of the stainless steel form is etched with buffalos, used by Haozous as a personal iconographic design element and as a direct reference to the stereotypical, romanticized past of the Indian.

Doug Hyde's Tennessee Pink Marble sculpture "Flag Song," represents the contemporary custom of honoring veterans by many Northern Plains cultures. Both men and women participate in the ceremony.

In Hyde's stone version, each figure is wearing a blanket. Compositionally, this allows for a solid and curvelinear rendering of the stone, a hallmark of the "Indian" sculpture. The male figure is holding his wide brimmed hat in his hand as a symbol of respect during the ceremony. The female figure is carrying an eagle feather fan. The eagle is held in high esteem by many Indian tribes as a symbol for strength and beauty.

Born and raised in Alaska (Aleut Tribe), John Hoover was a commercial fisherman. One day he saw kelp floating in the water and thought it had some real human-like qualities, so he invented Seaweed People and created this piece ("Seaweed People") based on his own legend.

We caught this view of the Seaweed People, fittingly reflected in the pool.

As we walked around the courtyards of the Museum, we saw arrangements of angles, lines, and shapes of the buildings, doorways, and ironwork.

The Museum has earned a national and international reputation for its thorough and sensitive representation of Native cultures of the Southwest.

But the Museum itself is a work of art. It even seemed to incorporate the environment into its artistic creations.

And we haven't even entered the galleries yet.

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