The Heritage Center at Red Cloud Indian School is hosting world-renowned Lakota artist Arthur Amiotte’s traveling exhibition “Transformation and Continuity in Lakota Culture: The Collages of Arthur Amiotte, 1988-2014.” The Heritage Center’s exhibit, located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, is the only stop on the exhibit’s tour within a reservation. The Heritage Center is on the historic Red Cloud Indian School campus and is free and open to the public.
The Center will host a reception for the artist on Saturday, November 15 from 1:30 to 4 p.m., which is also free and open. Amiotte will lead a tour of the gallery.
Amiotte was born in 1942 in Pine Ridge, and spent his early life just a short drive from The Heritage Center. In 1961, he attended an art workshop by Oscar Howe, a Yanktonai Dakota who became well known for influencing and paving the way for Native, contemporary art. Amiotte recalls that it was this workshop that influenced many of his early pieces and gave him a foundation from which to launch his career, one which now spans an impressive 53 years.
Amiotte’s work has since been showcased in more than 100 state, national and international exhibits including permanent collections at the Smithsonian and the U.S. Department of the Interior—where Amiotte served as a Commissioner of Indian Arts and Crafts in 1988. He has received dozens of prestigious awards including an Artist Fellowship from the Bush Foundation and Artist of the Year by the South Dakota Hall of Fame, as well as three honorary doctorate degrees for his work as an artist and educator.
In 2006, for the first time, an exhibition of 52 collages by Amiotte was shown during a special event at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe, New Mexico. However, because pieces were borrowed from various museums and collectors throughout the country, the exhibit was a one-time event. It was, therefore, never shown in South Dakota or at any other site close to the origins of the work: the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
“I had many conversations with arts-related friends and associates throughout South Dakota who asked me when they might see an exhibition of my collages,” said Amiotte. “Since I am now [in my 70s], I decided that the time to act is now.”
When Mary Maxon, curator of The Heritage Center heard about the possibility of the show, she jumped at the opportunity to bring the exhibit to the reservation.
“The Mission of The Heritage Center is to foster creative opportunities for understanding Native artists and art, while focusing on Lakota artists and their communities.” Maxon said. “This show fits that mission perfectly. We are tremendously grateful for Mr. Amiotte’s generosity in sharing this collection with the people of Pine Ridge.”
After earning his bachelor’s degree from Northern State University in 1964, Amiotte took on a rigorous, multi-part graduate studies regimen at universities in South Dakota, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma. In 1983 he received his master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Montana.
Between his graduate studies he spent his time at home in Pine Ridge immersed in Lakota ceremonies, rites and cultural practices with his mentor, Peter Catches Sr., a Lakota medicine man. He spent considerable time honing his artistic skill while learning traditional techniques such as hide tanning, porcupine quillwork and beading from Christina Standing Bear, his maternal grandmother and a well-known Oglala Lakota craftsperson.
During the next decade, Amiotte maintained a number of faculty positions at Midwest colleges, lecturing on Native art and history. In 1985 he retired from teaching and established an art studio in Custer, South Dakota, a short drive from his childhood home. There, he devoted his time to making art and soon after began his journey into collage making, which continues to this day.
It is this preeminent collage work, which rests upon more than two decades of academic and artistic study, that can now be seen by the public, without charge, at The Heritage Center at Red Cloud Indian School.
Like many aspiring artists, Amiotte’s style has changed and developed over the years. In the film, Arthur Amiotte: Collages—now showing at The Heritage Center—he notes that while his work has incorporated different styles, from abstraction to ledger art and finally collage, Amiotte always sought to display the notion of the Western frontier and the Lakota people who overcame assimilation and colonialism through fierce resiliency and a commitment to cultural preservation.
In the film, Amiotte notes his gratitude for the safeguarding of traditions, beliefs, ceremonies and the arts by his ancestors. Through his study, his traditional teachings and the contribution of his collages to the world, Amiotte too, works to preserve of the Lakota culture through his art and education.
“[My hope is] to visually represent and portray the forces that brought about change,” said Amiotte during an interview for the film. “[The Lakota people] adapted, yes, but in addition to that, they managed to preserve their ancient and profound beauties.”
Jose Rivera, a Native art and history scholar and the director of The Heritage Center, notes that “you can see a progression from traditional to contemporary art in Amiotte’s work.”
“It’s clear that art is, and will continue to be relevant to our Native lifestyle,” Rivera continues. “There is a story in every piece of artwork. As you walk through the gallery at The Heritage Center, you are able to take in a timeline of Lakota culture from the arrival of Christianity, new technology, European attire, westward expansion, the massacre at Wounded Knee—it’s all there on the gallery walls.”
Staff at The Heritage Center are delighted and honored to showcase “Transformation and Continuity in Lakota Culture: The Collages of Arthur Amiotte, 1988-2014” at The Heritage Center and cordially invite visitors and the community to view this important exhibition.
The exhibit at The Heritage Center features 55 collages as well as a replica of a painted and hand-drawn panorama from the turn of the century by the famous Standing Bear, Amiottes’ great-grandfather. This special opportunity to witness the visual history of the Lakota people through the works of Arthur Amiotte will only be on display at The Heritage Center through December 15, 2014.
For more information about the exhibit or The Heritage Center call 605-867-8257.
This piece was written by Chantel Roubideaux and Christopher Ives, of the Red Cloud Indian School.