Bayly Art Museum

University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA




Dragonfly, Bear, and Eagle: The Ralph E. Olson Collection of Native American Art


Through April 2, 2000, the Bayly Art Museum will present the special exhibition "Dragonfly, Bear, and Eagle: The Ralph E. Olson Collection of Native American Art." The exhibition was organized by Mary Jo Ayers, adjunct curator of Native American art at the Bayly Art Museum. (left: The Four Corners, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, probably Lukachukai Area Navajo (Diné) Peoples, Navajo Pictoral Rug, mid-20th century, handspun and hand woven wool, vegetal, aniline dyes and natural color, 73 x 61 inches, Private collection; right: Northwest Coast Alaska Native Peoples or First Peoples of Canada, Bowl in Shape of Bear, wood, paint, 8 inches high, Private collection)

Like many private collections, the Ralph E. Olson Collection of Native American Art reflects the particular interests and expertise of the collector. Carefully chosen textiles and pottery from the southwestern United States, carvings from the northwest coast of Alaska and Canada, beadwork and painting from the Great Lakes and Plains regions are all well represented, along with a small selection of photographs of people and places in native North America, recorded by the noted artist Edward S. Curtis.

Selections for the Museum exhibition include bowls by Nampeyo of Hano and her descendants, as well as work from the Zuni and Zia pueblos. Animal imagery on the Zuni pottery, such as pollywogs, dragonfies, and horn toads, recalls the importance of water to the desert farmer. The eagle carries the people's prayers to their deities. On the North American plains major events in the life of a person or group were recorded. Traditionally, these paintings and drawings were done on animal skins, then on ledger papers and cloth purchased from the reservation trading post. One large painting on cloth depicts native peoples, U. S. Army soldiers, and animals, all involved in an important event. (left: Rachel Nampeyo (1902-1983), Arizona, first Mesa, the village of Hano, Hopi-Tewa peoples, Bowl, (c. 1930), earthenware, hand-built, stone polished, mineral paint, 8 1/2 inches high x 13 inches diameter, Private collection, right: North American Plains/Plateau, Possibly Ute or Shoshone, Kiowa peoples, Indians, Soldiers, and Animals, commercial muslin cloth, lead pencil, water base paint, inscribed in pencil at the bottom is the following "Fort DuChesne Utah 1895," Private collection)

"The exhibition," notes Ms. Ayers, "attests to Mr. Olson's practiced eye. He built this collection with great dedication, obtaining the best examples available to represent his commitment to the cultures of native peoples."

Read more in Resource Library Magazine about the Bayly Art Museum.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

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