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Gifts of the Forest: Native Traditions in Wood and Bark

January 25 - April 27, 2007


The UBS Art Gallery will present artifacts and new works demonstrating the cultural, spiritual and environmental significance of forests to Native American communities. Gifts of the Forest: Native Traditions in Wood and Bark, on view from January 25 to April 27, 2007 at The UBS Art Gallery (1285 Avenue of the Americas, New York City), will feature approximately 100 objects made by Native American tribes of eastern North America. Organized by the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center in Connecticut from their collection, the exhibition highlights 300 years of artistic traditions and contemporary expressions of cultural values.

Gifts of the Forest is organized into six sections, beginning with "First Man and First Woman", which presents a Native American creation story told through contemporary sculpture. "From the Hide of the Tree" features birch bark objects such as canoes, containers and cradleboards. "Carving in the Round" includes a variety of vessels and utensils made from hardwood burl, and "Following the Straight of the Grain" displays objects such as bows and snowshoes that take advantage of wood's strength and flexibility. "The Tool as Art" introduces woodworking instruments such as crooked knives and splint gauges for basket making, and "Weaving with Wood" highlights the tradition of splint basketry. The works on view will be complemented by modern paintings that portray the continuing influence of the forest on Native people.

The forests of North America from the Canadian Maritimes, along the Atlantic coast and west to the Mississippi River provided an abundance of raw materials for practical needs, including housing, medicine, food, tools and transportation, and also served as spiritual inspiration. A scale model of an early 20th century Penobscot birch bark canoe features etched designs of moose and deer on the bow and stern. The Abenaki tribe believes the Creator made humans from tree trunks, inspired by the beauty and grace of ash trees. The contemporary sculpture First Man and First Woman (2000) by Richard Love and Calvin Francis depicts this story, with figures emerging from the wood to express themes of creation, strength, protection and renewal associated with the great forests.

Native artists prized hardwood burl above all other types of wood for many objects and tools because of its extremely dense and beautifully patterned grain. The curving grain of the wood is the primary decoration on a 19th century effigy bowl; the two handles are abstract representations of effigies-animals or people that represent clans, ancestors or guardian spirits. Although the function of many pieces most often determines the form, Native artists enhanced their designs with carved decorations reflecting cultural values and expressing personal artistic vision. An effigy spoon from the mid-19th century features the curved beak of a bird of prey that appears to grow from the handle. An early 20th-century Ojibwa birch bark hamper is decorated with sepia-toned trees, clovers and grass that are etched into the bark. These basic forms are arranged symmetrically, conveying balance and harmony.

Native artists also adorn their work with painted designs. The complex sun pattern on the lid of a late 18th or early 19th century bent wood box is embellished with paint rubbed into the engraved lines. The intricate decoration on an Iroquois cradleboard from the mid-19th century expresses the special place of children in Native culture. Ornately carved with stylized flowers and brightly painted, the cradleboard was a highly prized family heirloom handed down from generation to generation. The contemporary painting Timberline by James Simon uses birch bark as a canvas for an evocative scene in which a lone figure stands against a brightly colored land.

To view the exhibition brochure please click here.


About the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center

The Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center is a tribally owned and operated nonprofit institution whose mission is to further knowledge and understanding of the richness and diversity of Eastern Woodland and North America's indigenous cultures and societies. Opened in 1998, the Mashantucket Pequot Museum has hosted nearly two million visitors, including more than 40,000 school children and teachers annually.

The multi-media permanent exhibits trace the Native and natural history of southern New England from the time of the Ice Age to the present, imparting the story of the Pequot people and other Eastern Woodland tribal nations. Exhibit highlights include a walk-through, 16th century Pequot Village that features the sights, sounds and activities of daily life more than 400 years ago, as well as an extensive collection of ethnographic and contemporary Eastern Woodlands cultural material. A research department conducts archaeological and historical inquiries, and two research libraries as well as archives and special collections house more than 40,000 volumes, including documents, maps, rare books and other materials on all Native peoples of the United States and Canada. For more information about the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center visit www.pequotmuseum.org.


(above: Richard Love and Calvin Francis, Penobscot, First Man and First Woman, 2000, 48 inches H x 26 inches W x 23 inches D) 


(above: Birchbark Hamper, Early 20th century, Ojibwa, 27 3/4 inches H x 17 1/2 inches W x 15 1/2 inches D)



(above: Cradleboard, Mid 19th century, Iroquois, 30 1/2 inches H x 13 3/4 inches W x 12 1/2 inches D)


(above: Canoe Model, Early 20th century, Northern New England, 22 1/4 inches L x 5 inches W x 4 inches D)

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