Monday, November 12, 2007


One of the lesser-known art shows in the Pittsburgh area is the Native American Heritage Committee Arts Exhibition. But for seventeen years, under the guidance of Lee and Earl Dingus, the NAHC has endeavored to improve the awareness and understanding of Native Americans and Native American culture. Entry in the show is open to all artists and the current exhibition, "Our Land is Our Life" celebrates the environment and Our Mother the Earth. It runs through November 20 at the Carnegie Mellon University Center Art Gallery; hours are Monday through Friday, 9 to 4.
The NAHC show is as much about education as it is about art. To this end, each artist has submitted a statement that explains their research and how each piece connects to the theme of the show. In the past years themes have included "Keeper of the Harvest", "The Native American Rainbow" and "Daughters of the Turtle Island." This year's theme encourages us to learn respect and reciprocity as realated to the land and all our relations.
Works in the show are divided into three categories: two-dimensional art, three-dimensional art and wearable art. Each category has brought together an assortment of entries in a variety of styles and mediums. Visually, artists artists have drawn their inspiration from sources as diverse as Cherokee mythology, the photography of Edwin Curtis and Baha'i iconography. Each piece is exhibited with the artist's statement.
Several pieces are noteworthy for both their form and content. Judith Gentile's "Picture Jasper" is an elegant wire-wrapped necklace which draws its inspiration from a Crow tale, "Old Man Coyote Makes the World." The myth relates not only the creation story, but also explains the division of the peoples of the earth into tribes.

The Peoples Choice Award was won by Pat Blackbird Laughlin's "Chief", a large stained glass in the tradition of Western Art. By stark contrast, Ms Laughlin's "Mask" is an interpretation of a Zuni burial mask and symbolically embodies the four directions of the earth.
Earl Dingus has several stunning pieces in the show. "We are the Land-the Land is Us" is a hand-hammered silver sculpture which celebrates the Earth our Mother and all that is on her. Essential to the work are the four colors of the Cherokee medicine wheel which represent (among other things) the four seasons, the four stages of life and the four living worlds.
Brad Migyanka's "Mitakuye Oyasin" is a sweat lodge ladle constructed from buffalo horn, pipe stone dust, epoxy and turquoise pebbles. The artist has drawn inspiration from Black Elk, an Oglala Sioux holy man, and symbolizes the balance and harmony of the natural world.
There are many lessons we can take from this show. We cannot separate ourselves from our earth and all that exist upon her. Above all, the show is about respect--respect for cultures and ways of life that may differ from our own; respect for art and expression.

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