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The art of community

image: Departments headerA few paragraphs from now, I'll talk about Silver Horn, the Kiowa artist who was the subject of a spring exhibition at the Smart Museum, "Transforming Images"--and whose self-portrait is shown at right. But first, a local detour.

image: Self-portrait of a master illustrator

This issue's cover story, "Hyde Park Revisited," is about another transforming image: that of the University's neighborhood. Like the rest of Chicago's South Side, we're "hot." That's good, right?

I once read a poem with the wonderful line, "California is Christianity with the conveniences." Longtime Hyde Parkers sometimes worry that, with the advent of the conveniences, they may lose their true faith: Because 62 percent of the faculty live within walking distance of campus, the neighborhood, like the University, is truly a community of scholars. What if the rising real-estate tide changes that?

For a non-scholar, living where you work has advantages, too. Take, for example, the Silver Horn exhibit. Despite press releases and stories in the campus and city papers, I showed up at the scholarly symposium held in conjunction with the exhibition, solely because a former next-door neighbor, an art historian who's now moved five minutes away, told me I'd be a fool to miss it.

He was right, just as my other neighbors are so often right about so many other things that I might like to read, know, do, or think about. While it's nice to be able to get a cup of Starbucks or a boutique bagel in Hyde Park these days, you can do that in lots of places. What you can't always get is the special community--which may be what the newcomers want, too.

Returning to Silver Horn: Outside the Oriental Institute, pewter-colored clouds gathered for a morning thunderstorm. Inside, the paneled walls of Breasted Hall glowed equally dark. A score of academics chatted softly in the auditorium's front rows. Moving from group to group was a middle-aged man in business suit, white shirt, and striking tie--wider than a bolo, narrower than a belt, as brightly colored as a rag rug. When Robert G. Donnelley, AM'97--businessman turned museum director turned Ph.D. student in art history at Chicago and guest curator for "Transforming Images: The Art of Silver Horn and His Successors"--came to the podium, he explained that the project's Kiowa mentor had given him the tie, asking him to wear it whenever the exhibition was discussed.


A painter has the right
to paint only what he owns. The "he" is deliberate.

Listening to the first speaker--Candace S. Greene, an ethnologist with the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and author of the forthcoming Silver Horn: Master Illustrator of the Sioux--it became apparent that, in wearing the tie, Donnelley was not simply respecting the wishes of a friend, he was also acknowledging important Kiowa tenets.

The Kiowa believe, Greene said, in the rights of representation, a version of intellectual property in which one owns one's own history and one's deeds. A painter has the right to paint only what he owns. The "he" is deliberate. Until reservation days, painting was man's work, on man's subjects. Most Kiowa art was a public accounting of a warrior's accomplishments--"counting coup," or strokes of war. Defeated by the U.S. government, the painters' traditional subject was gone.

Too young to take part in the Kiowa's last battles, Silver Horn spent most of his life on an Oklahoma reservation. When he died in 1940 at age 80, he left more than 1,000 works--some traditional, others influenced by Western style. He painted on animal hides; he drew in ledgers and notebooks. He recorded war deeds; he illustrated folklore and myths. Some of his works--deliberately generic, not borrowing from any individual's experience--were made to be sold. A mentor to young artists, he saw Kiowa art move from the personal to the community, from biography to history, from I to we. --M.R.Y.

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  JUNE 2000

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