Janet Turner Print Museum Marks 100th Anniversary of the "Discovery" of Ishi with "Sustaining Cultures: Native Peoples" Art Exhibit
On August 28, 1911 a disheveled and starving man became an icon and symbol of the purported disappearance of Native American tribes and culture when he stumbled out of the nearby wilderness and into the 20th century.
Found hiding in an Oroville rancher’s barn, this middle-aged man would come to be known simply as “Ishi.” Not knowing what to do with him, and unable to understand his language, the local citizenry took him to the Butte County Jail for safe-keeping.
Soon word got out about Ishi and people flocked from miles around to get a look at “the last wild Indian in North America” and “a living Stone-Age man,” as the newspapers had described him. Anthropology professors at U.C. Berkeley heard about Ishi and after sending a linguistic expert to communicate with him discovered he was the last of his tribe, the Yahi. He was brought to their facility and given an apartment and job in exchange for teaching them about Yahi/Native American culture.
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The Turner Print Museum is marking the 100th anniversary of the discovery of Ishi with an art exhibition entitled Sustaining Cultures: Native Peoples. Presented March 26-April 15 in the Turner’s gallery space in CSU, Chico’s Meriam Library, the exhibit will feature contemporary prints by Native American, Inuit and Australian Aboriginal artists.
Works in the exhibition were selected from the Turner’s 3,500-plus print collection. Four Inuit prints from Stephen and Barbara Morris, sponsors of the exhibition, will be displayed in the Turner lobby. Also on display will be a selection of ceramic works by Southwestern Native American artists on loan from Chico residents Pat and Jerril Kopp.
“The prints represent Inuit, Pacific Northwest Coast and Australian Aboriginal artists,” said exhibit co-curator and Museum curator Catherine Sullivan.
“Our intention with the exhibition was to focus on the interrelated themes of cultural survival and the human interaction with the environment, exemplified by works in a variety of styles,” added exhibition co-curator Dr. Matthew Looper, faculty member in CSU, Chico’s Department of Art and Art History.
Looper will give a short talk prior to a reception for the exhibition on Thursday, April 12. Festivities began at 5 p.m. at The Turner and are free and open to the public.
Print styles represented in the exhibition include serigraph, lithograph, stone-cut, stencil, and relief.
“Many of the styles are firmly rooted in distinctly Native traditions of representation, though some are influenced by international art styles such as Expressionism and Impressionism,” noted Looper.
Looper said subjects represented in the print works fall into three distinct categories: Humans as a part of the natural world, expressed through animal symbolism; reverence for the earth and sacred sites; and survival of cultural values reflected in traditions and regalia.
“Most prints represent the indigenous expression of culture, be that belief, myth or legend,” added Sullivan. “Often certain forms, such as a bear or raven have particular significance. The most compelling aspect is the storytelling within one image. Sometimes parts of one image may actually indicate past and present times overlapping, colliding or existing simultaneously.”
Looper hopes that people who come to Sustaining Cultures take from the exhibition a realization that Native American art encompasses a wide range of styles.
“Native American art is not something from the past, but is an enduring, vital practice that has relevance for the world today,” he said. “This exhibition represents a rare opportunity to view a wide range of Native American art in a variety of styles. Some works are small and subtle, while others are large and employ bold and unconventional color combinations.”
Sullivan said it is the goal of all the exhibitions at The Turner to help foster learning through understanding and relating to the visual image. “For this particular exhibition the depth, breath and reverence for cultural traditions should be apparent and hopefully appreciated by the museum visitor.”
A select number of prints from the Turner Collection that expand on the Sustaining Cultures theme will also be displayed in the Ayres Hall first floor cases on the CSU, Chico campus. These prints by Tony Rubey are a photo-lithographic story of Alaskan Eskimos donated by Professor of art James Kuiper and artist Elizabeth Newman Kuiper.
The Janet Turner Print Museum is located in the Meriam Library at CSU, Chico, adjacent to the Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology, and is open during exhibits Monday-Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For more information, call Turner Print Museum curator Catherine Sullivan at 898-4476 or visit www.janetturner.org. Groups and classes can go online to make arrangements for visits to The Turner, including visits outside the public viewing hours. The website has a section for class applications for docent tours and related activities. This form should be submitted prior to the visit to ensure a productive and educational experience for the class.
Please note that the Normal Avenue Parking Lot, located across from CSU, Chico’s Performing Arts Center, is closed while construction commences on a new parking structure; parking is available near the Meriam Library on nearby Chico streets and also at adjacent Chico State parking lots.