This exhibit puts the art in artifacts.
“Tipi: Heritage of the Great Plains,” opening this Friday at the Brooklyn Museum, celebrates Native American culture and tradition through century-old clothing, weaponry, artwork, and, of course, the housing that were once called “teepees.”
“It was really important to tell the story about its history over time, that the tipi is still very much an active part of the Plains culture today, and the context in which it’s used,” said Nancy Rosoff, who co-curated the exhibition with Susan Kennedy Zeller. “But we’re still an art museum, so we take an aesthetic approach to showing the beauty of these objects, and we let the objects speak for themselves.”
With the tipi as your guide, the museum gives you the full Plains experience — there’s sections on tipi life, tipi construction and history, pre-reservation life, women and the tipi, and, the piece de resistance, a 27-foot-tall canvas tipi commissioned by the museum and constructed and painted by members of the Blackfeet tribe that visitors can enter.
“We wanted people to be able to experience what it’s like to enter a tipi, what the canvas looks like, and how it’s set up,” said Rosoff.
The museum also commissioned a second tipi made of buffalo hide, and has a Southern Cheyenne tipi from the turn of the 20th century on loan.
The rest of the exhibition offers plenty of gems, including intricately beaded dresses, moccasins, and dolls, feathered headdresses and intact tomahawks from the late 1880s, as well as contemporary art from Native American artists.
“It was important to demonstrate the continuity of artistic traditions and ongoing ingenuity of Plains existence,” said Rosoff.
With nearly 150 items, this is the largest exhibition of its kind outside of museums strictly devoted to Native American culture, said Kennedy Zeller, which is a real treat for those of us west of the Mississippi.
“In artwork, aesthetic and lifestyle, we thought, how can Brooklyn learn about these people?” said Kennedy Zeller. “Not everyone can get to the Great Plains. This is a way to experience it.”
“Tipi: Heritage of the Great Plains” at the Brooklyn Museum [200 Eastern Pkwy. at Washington Avenue in Prospect Heights, (718) 638-5000], Feb. 18-May 15. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays. For info, visit www.brooklynmuseum.org.